Betty Lee Babcock, Backer of MT Constitution, Dies

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — Betty Babcock, a backer of the 1972 push to modernize Montana’s constitution and the wife of former Montana Gov. Tim Babcock, died in Helena on Sunday. She was 91.

Babcock also served as a Republican in the Montana House. Montana Republican Party Chairman Will Deschamps confirmed her death in an email.

Babcock was one of 19 female delegates to the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention where the document was written to replace the 1889 version.

Concerns over the older Montana Constitution, including allowances for closed-door government meetings and fear it was insufficient to protect Montana’s environment, led leaders such as Babcock to successfully advocate for a revamped version.

According to one history text on the Montana state website, Babcock said cooperation, not infighting, was key to that effort’s success.

“We didn’t fight each other,” she said. “We didn’t always agree, but we did work together.”

George Harper, another delegate who died in 2011, once credited Republicans like Babcock for traveling the state and answering questions from citizens about the new Constitution ahead of a vote on whether to ratify it.

Harper said if it weren’t for Republicans like her, “that Constitution never would have been passed.”

On June 6, 1972, the people of Montana voted to ratify the new constitution. Though 44 of 56 counties rejected it, voters in the largest counties by population supported the document, and it passed by fewer than 3,000 votes.

Babcock was also instrumental in helping raise money to renovate the Montana Capitol, and she worked tirelessly for the Montana Historical Society, friends said.

“When she worked on our state constitution, when she worked with the historical society on a new building, and all the rest of her life as well, Betty was showing how much she loved her state and community,” Deschamps said in a statement.

The former Betty Lee met Tim Babcock in high school, and they married in Las Vegas in 1941. While he fought in Europe in World War II, she lived in Glendive and worked in a ration office.

She was first lady during his time as governor from 1962 to 1969.

“Betty’s selflessness and generous spirit had a profound impact on me as a young Montana State University student who served alongside her as a Montana delegate for Ronald Reagan at the 1984 Republican National Convention,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Montana, in a statement. “Betty had a strong dedication to public service and bettering Montana.”

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