My mother handed me the telephone with an excited smile. The voice on the line said, “Hi, Bob, this is Tim Babcock.” That was 50 years and a few months ago. I was 16, and the governor had called to thank me for organizing a “Teen Age Republican Club” at Flathead High School in Kalispell.
Rarely has a year gone by since then that I haven’t had contact with Tim Babcock. He would answer to “Governor Babcock,” but only once, as you will see, did I ever hear him introduce himself that way. He preferred Tim, and that’s what we called him.
About 40 years later, in a recorded interview I did of him for the Mansfield Library Historical Archives, Tim mentioned offhandedly that he was decorated as a result of his experience in combat near the Ramagen Bridge in Europe during World War II. Typical of Tim, what he left out was that his decoration, the Bronze Star, was awarded for his heroism in risking his life under fire to guide reinforcements to the rescue of his pinned-down detachment.
In another conversation Tim told me that when he was governor, he was invited by former President Eisenhower to an overnight visit to Eisenhower’s farm at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Tim said that Ike knew that Tim had been an enlisted man in World War II. After the other guests had left, Tim said the great general was intensely interested in Tim’s perspectives as a common soldier. Tim’s impressions of the five-star general were that Ike was smart, his questions penetrating, and when he sensed Tim might be holding something back, “that’s when he really zeroed in.” Perhaps euphemistically, Tim described the general’s speech as at times “colorful.” Tim must have passed muster, because he was subsequently invited to play golf with Eisenhower several times.
Tim enjoyed the fact that he had never served as a military officer, unlike manyof his peers in high elected office. Tim was a lobbyist for Occidental Petroleum Company in Washington, D.C. when I was an enlisted man at the Navy Annex to the Pentagon during the Vietnam War. I called him at his office, and he invited me to lunch, which we had in Tim’s office. Then Tim called my office in the Bureau of Naval Personnel, introduced himself to my commanding officer as “Governor Babcock,” and told Commander Schultz that Petty Officer Brown would be arriving back at his duty station in Tim’s limousine in about 30 minutes. To Tim’s delight, I reported to him that my officemates were watching when the gleaming long black limo delivered me back to the Navy Annex.
Tim Babcock has been the grand old man of the Montana Republican Party for virtually my whole life. He was in the Montana delegation to the GOP National Convention a record 16 consecutive times. I attended just once, and saw former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Tim share a warm embrace, followed by a lengthy conversation. I also watched Tim initiate a conversation with football great Jimmy Brown, seated with the New Jersey delegation next to ours on the convention floor.
Tim’s life had its up and downs, but his outlook was always up. He loved people, and making friends. He was my friend since as a teen I first heard his friendly voice on the telephone. Ever wise, engaging and humble, all Montana has lost a friend.
Bob Brown is a former Montana secretary of state.
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