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Longtime legislator remembered for integrity, fairness

HARLEM - Former state Rep. Francis Bardanouve was remembered Friday as a man of impeccable integrity, humility and kindness at his funeral in the Harlem High School gymnasium.

About 400 people attended, including dozens of current and former state officials, as well as a host of townspeople from Harlem and its surrounding communities.

The 84-year-old rancher served 36 years as a Democrat from Harlem, retiring in 1993 as the second-longest serving legislator in state history. He died Sunday after having surgery for a growth on his colon.

"On so many fronts, Francis made Montana a remarkable place with remarkable policy," said longtime former state legislator and 1992 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dorothy Bradley, who served with Bardanouve.

"Montana is a more impressive place because of Francis Bardanouve - and also braver and more fun," Bradley said.

Collages on display during the service showed Bardanouve as a child and young man on his family's Hi-Line ranch - often accompanied by horses, dogs and cats - and as an adult, with his wife Venus and their family. There were also dozens of photos of his years in the Legislature, including one framed color photograph of him napping on the steps at the front of the House floor, bearing the inscription "The Impossible Dream."

Bardanouve was known for his catnaps. The pastor of his church, Chuck Vanasse, recalled the first sermon he gave in Harlem and how he was dismayed to see Bardanouve sitting in the front row with his head down. After the sermon, Bardanouve asked a question that summed up the entire message.

"He was never asleep," Vanasse said. "He was always listening."

Terry Cohea, a former legislative fiscal analyst, said Bardanouve was a great reader, interested in everything. The day of his surgery, she said, he had read two articles in Harper's Magazine he wanted to talk about. He was also a good businessman, she said, keenly aware of the intricacies of the state budget.

"If Francis had been the auditor reviewing Enron's books, there wouldn't have been a collapse," she said.

Although he was most known for his work in the House, Bardanouve was more than a thoughtful and hard-working legislator, Cohea and others said.

He was "the most loyal, truest friend you could have," Cohea said, recalling his "sixth sense" for when a person needed encouragement or a stern word. State employees took handwritten notes from Bardanouve as "the highest praise they ever had," she said. Bardanouve was also the kind of man who braved fierce snowstorms during calving season, would stay up all night to help an animal stuck in the mud and "take you in his pickup and do wheelies in the field," Cohea said.

Another former legislative fiscal analyst, John LaFaver, said Bardanouve was often lonely during his time in the Legislature, wondering if anyone understood him. The care he took in spending taxpayers' money sometimes frustrated his fellow Democrats, and Republicans didn't appreciate his deep concern for the environment.

But, LaFaver said, the people of Blaine County understood Bardanouve and continued, year after year, to send him back to the House.

"All of us owe you a tremendous debt of thanks," he told the Blaine County people in the crowd.

Another Blaine County legislator, Sen. Greg Jergeson, D-Chinook, recalled his first meeting with Bardanouve. It was 1958. Jergeson was 7 years old, and Bardanouve was visiting Jergeson's parents during his first campaign.

"I didn't understand all of that (politics), but I did get a sense that this was someone important," Jergeson said.

Later, Bardanouve encouraged Jergeson to run for the Montana Senate.

Bardanouve was elected after that first campaign and served his first term in the House alongside another freshman legislator, Ted Schwinden of Wolf Point, who later became governor. Schwinden was also best man at Bardanouve's wedding to Venus.

Schwinden sent a letter to be read at the ceremony, remembering Bardanouve as a great friend and the kind of man who could show up for an unannounced visit just before dinner and whose nearly new Ford could look like it had been rolled on a hill.

The last letter Schwinden received from Bardanouve was a short note of thanks.

John Mercer, a four-term Republican speaker of the House who is now a member of the Board of Regents, read a short resolution from the regents, praising Bardanouve as "a statesman of the highest order" who was "respected and admired … for his integrity and fairness."

Mercer called Bardanouve "the greatest single person who ever served in the House of Representatives."

At the end of the service, Bardanouve's coffin, draped in a Montana flag, was taken to the cemetery in a horse-drawn hearse. The hearse was followed by two horses, one with a rider, the other with Bardanouve's worn-out old cowboy boots hanging over the saddle.

In a book of newspaper clippings on display at the gymnasium, a 1985 story from the Bozeman Chronicle began: "Legislators come and go, but Francis Bardanouve goes on forever."

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