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Former Missouri Gov. Warren Hearnes, 86, dies at his home

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 17, 2009 - Former Missouri Gov. Warren Hearnes died shortly after 11 p.m. Sunday at his home in Charleston, Mo., surrounded by family, according to family spokesman Rob Crouse.

This morning, Gov. Jay Nixon hailed his fellow Democrat as "one of Missouri’s true 20th- century statesmen." Nixon also ordered flags at all Missouri state facilities to be flown at half-staff until Hearnes' funeral.

On Wednesday, Hearnes will lie in state in the rotunda of the state Capitol from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. The viewing will be open to the public. A service will follow at 2 p.m., with remarks by Nixon.

Hearnes then will be transported back to Charleston for visitation Thursday, from 5-8 p.m., at the First Baptist Church, 301 S. Main. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Friday at the church; Nixon also will attend and speak.

(In lieu of flowers, the family is asking for contributions to the church's building fund.)

Hearnes, 86, had been gravely ill for some time, as his wife, former state Rep. Betty Hearnes, had confirmed in an interview several days ago.

Hearnes was Missouri governor rom 1965-73, and was the state's first to serve two consecutive terms as a result of a change in the state's constitution during his first term.

In a statement issued within a few hours of his death, Hearnes' family said:

“Today we said good-bye to our beloved husband, father, and grandfather Warren Eastman Hearnes. He left us peacefully and without pain and is now in God’s care. We take consolation in the fact that we were with him until the end, that he was blessed with such a long, rich life, and that he was able to accomplish so much during his years of public service for all Missourians. 

Missouri schoolchildren receive the education they deserve, those with mental illness receive the treatment they need, our citizens experience the benefits of tourism and the arts that they want, senior citizens and those with disabilities receive the care they must have, and all of us reap the rewards of the healthy state business climate we enjoy because of the achievements of Warren Hearnes as governor. His legacy will reach beyond our generation, continuing to make life better for the citizens of the state he served so faithfully and so well.

"Just as has always been the case in our lives, whether in happy times or sad ones, we will face this great loss as a family, helping each other. However, words cannot express how much we appreciate the huge outpouring of support that we are experiencing from friends, public figures, and even complete strangers who never met Warren but admired him for what he did.

"It has been a rare gift for us to love this soft spoken but strong willed ‘gentleman from Missouri — to learn from his wisdom, to laugh at his quick wit, and take pleasure in his endless love and support. We will miss him every day. But at those moments, we will find comfort in remembering the countless great times we shared and looking ahead at the bright future he helped shape for this state that he loved.”

For most of the 1960s, Hearnes was Missouri's pre-eminent Democrat -- especially after he bucked party leaders to run for governor, challenging their preference for then-Lt. Gov. Hilary Bush, who was the anointed Democratic favorite for governor in 1964.

Hearnes attacked Bush and outgoing Gov. John Dalton as examples of the Democratic machine politics that he asserted had ruled the state for too long.

After defeating Bush in a bitter primary, Hearnes went on to win the state's highest executive office that November, overwhelming his Republican rival, Ethan A. H. Shepley, a St. Louis civic leader and a former administrator at Washington University.

Hearnes' first inaugural address, delivered in January 1965, remains noteworthy because of its warm reception by the public at the time: "The change we offer is fresh ideas, fresh focus, fresh attitudes and fresh dreams -- dreams of a society, which can, if necessary, rise above party politics."

His two terms were noted for his efforts to increase state spending on public education, create a system of mental-health clinics, expand the state's highway system and civil rights. He signed the state's public-accomodations law that did away with many separate public facilities for whites and blacks.

But although he easily won re-election in 1968, he found himself beset during his second term -- and several years thereafter -- by some of the same accusations he had lobbed at earlier political rivals.

Although Hearnes was never formally charged with any wrongdoing, the controversy contributed to his failed quests for the U.S. Senate in 1976 and for state auditor in 1978.

Following are excerpts from our earlier post on Thursday:

A colorful, candid politician, Warren Hearnes was born in Moline, Ill., but moved across the Mississippi as a child to Charleston, where he grew up.

After stints in the military and at West Point, he graduated from law school in 1952 at the University of Missouri-Columbia. At the time, he already was a member of the state Legislature. Hearnes married his wife, Betty, in 1948.

Hearnes served more than a decade in the state House, from 1950-61, some of it as majority leader. He left the Legislature when he was sworn in as Missouri secretary of state, a post he won in the 1960 election.

Hearnes went on to be elected governor in 1964, after a nasty party primary. He won re-election in 1968, after voters in 1965 approved a change in the Missouri Constitution to allow governors to serve consecutive terms.

As a result, Hearnes also became only the second Missouri governor to serve two terms. A fellow Democrat, Phil Donnelly, was the first: he won elections as governor in 1944 and 1952 (sitting out 1948 because of the constitutional ban.)

Since Hearnes, Missouri has had three more two-term governors: Republicans Christopher S. Bond and John Ashcroft, and Democrat Mel Carnahan.

Hearnes had no problem winning re-election in 1968. But his second term was embroiled in controversy and various investigations, some extending to high-level Democrats in the Legislature. Hearnes was never charged with any misdeeds, but he and his wife long maintained that the cloud of controversy killed his political future.

The notoriety did contribute to Hearnes' loss in a three-way primary in 1976 for the U.S. Senate. But when the victor, then-U.S. Rep. Jerry Litton, died in a plane crash the night of the primary election, state Democrats turned to Hearnes to be his replacement. Hearnes lost that November to Republican John C. Danforth.

In 1978, Hearnes made an unsuccessful run for state auditer, losing to Republican Jim Antonio. After that loss, Hearnes said he was done with politics. But in 1980, Hearnes became a circuit judge, in the process becoming Missouri's only governor to also serve in the legislative and judicial branches.

In 1988, Hearnes' wife, Betty -- who earlier had won election to the state House -- was the Democratic nominee for governor. She lost to Republican incumbent John Ashcroft, but remains Missouri's only spouse of a governor to later win her party's nomination for the post.

Besides his wife, survivors include three daughters: Lynn Hearnes, Leigh Hammond, and Julia Hearnes-Sindelar, all of St. Louis, and four grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are pending.


Monday morning, many of the state's major political figures and parties offered their condolences on the death of Hearnes.


"Early this morning, we received the sad news about the passing of one of Missouri’s true 20th-century statesmen, former Gov. Warren E. Hearnes. Gov. Hearnes was a groundbreaking man of Missouri in many ways, beyond being the first Missouri governor to serve two successive terms.

When he saw how Missourians with mental illness were warehoused in state hospitals, he created the system of regional mental-health centers to provide effective treatment. When he saw how Missouri’s public schools were not keeping up with other states, he greatly increased state aid for education to give our students and teachers the resources they needed.

And when he saw racial injustice, he signed Missouri’s first civil rights act, a public accommodations bill sponsored in the House by a young state representative named Mel Carnahan.

Warren Hearnes was a man who got things done -– as majority floor leader, as secretary of state, and as governor -– and Missouri is a better place because he answered the call to a life of public service. 

Georganne and I are keeping the Hearnes family, especially his wife, former First Lady Betty Hearnes, in our thoughts and prayers. Over the next few days, my staff and I will be working with the Hearnes family to ensure Gov. Hearnes is given appropriate honors by the state of Missouri.


"I am deeply saddened today by the passing of Gov. Hearnes. Gov. Hearnes' legacy of public service will forever be an inspiration to us all.

"As a former state representative, secretary of state and chief executive, Gov. Hearnes dedicated much of his life in service to the citizens of the great state of Missouri.  He also served his nation proudly as a graduate of West Point and in the United States Army.

"As a fellow Southeast Missourian, I can truly say how proud we were to call Gov. Hearnes one of us.  I send my deepest sympathies to Betty, their children and the entire Hearnes family. 

Today, Missouri owes a debt of gratitude to the Hearnes family for their commitment to our state."


"Gov. Hearnes was a delightful man and I enjoyed the opportunities I had to spend time with him.  I last saw him at a reception we hosted at the mansion for (him) and some of his former staff members.  He was in a weakened state, but nothing could hide his strong spirit. 

"He was fun to be around and he enjoyed reminding me of the respectful rivalry that exists between our alma maters.  Missouri has lost a true public servant.  Melanie and I will keep Betty and her family in our thoughts and prayers."


“I am saddened by the loss of one of Missouri's leaders. Gov. Hearnes dedicated his life to public service and will leave behind a legacy of bipartisanship.
“I will always be grateful for Warren's help to a new young governor; in true Show Me style he ensured for me a smooth transition into the governor's mansion. Linda's and my thoughts and prayers are with Betty and the rest of the Hearnes family.”


“Yesterday, Missouri lost a pioneer, statesman, and dedicated public servant. Warren Hearnes was a man of many firsts: Missouri’s first two-term governor, and the first governor to serve in all three branches of government. He will be remembered for his commitment to increased education funding, and our state is a better place thanks to his service. The thoughts and prayers of all Missourians are with Betty and the rest of Hearnes’ family.”


“Gov. Hearnes was a dedicated public official who served the people of Missouri with distinction and conviction. It is certainly a sad day for our state. Jackie and I send our thoughts prayers to Betty and the entire Hearnes family as they mourn the loss of their loved one.”


“Debra and I, with our entire family, extend our heartfelt condolences to Betty Hearnes and her family for their loss.  Warren Hearnes leaves a rich legacy of public service, having the rare distinction of serving in all three branches of Missouri state government.  As students prepare for the new school year it is a reminder that because of his firm commitment to education at all levels, he helped launch an entire generation of Missourians.”


"The passing of Gov. Warren Hearnes is a sad moment for Missouri as we lose one of our great leaders. Gov. Hearnes was an innovator throughout his career in public service, and his contributions to our state will never be forgotten by Missourians.  His commitment to mental health care, education, civil rights and the environment forever changed Missouri for the better. 

"In this sad moment, my family and I express our deepest sympathies with Mrs. Hearnes and her family. Gov. Hearnes will truly be missed.


“Like Missourians everywhere, I am grateful for the over two decades of service Governor Hearnes gave to our state.  A veteran from southeast Missouri, Governor Hearnes demonstrated a deep commitment to the importance of public service. 

"During his two terms as Governor, he expanded the state’s role in the prevention and treatment of mental disorders, developmental disabilities and substance abuse. His work to expand mental health services and invest in our state’s education system improved the lives of countless Missourians and its effects are still present today. 

"I join all Missourians in mourning the loss of this great public servant, and I extend my deepest sympathy to the Hearnes family.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.