Former Montana Gov. Stan Stephens Dies at 91

Stephens died Saturday in Kalispell after several months of ill health

By Associated Press
Former Montana Gov. Stan Stephens listens to Steven Spielberg while the director was in Northwest Montana shooting the 1989 film "Always." Courtesy of Garry Wunderwald

HELENA – Former Montana Gov. Stan Stephens has died. He was 91.

Stephens died Saturday in Kalispell after several months of ill health, according to former state Sen. John Brendan.

Stephens, a Republican, served as the state’s 20th governor between 1989 and 1993.

He was born in Calgary, Canada, and moved to Montana when he was 19. During his decades-long career in broadcasting he served with the U.S. Armed Forces Broadcast Network during the Korean War.

Prior to his tenure as governor, Stephens was a member of the Montana Senate representing Havre for 16 years beginning in 1969. During that time, he served as majority leader and senate president.

He married his wife, Ann, in 1954 in Havre, where he worked at KOJM radio station as a writer and announcer before buying the station in 1965 with two colleagues.

The governor’s seat was left open when Ted Schwinden did not seek a third term. Stephens’ primary opponent and the Republican frontrunner, former Secretary of State Jim Waltermire, died in a plane crash two months before the election, easing the way for Stephens to capture the party’s nomination. He prevailed in the general election over former Gov. Thomas Lee Judge.

After deciding not to seek a second term to health concerns, Stephens retired to Kalispell with his wife, according to his official biography.

A private memorial service will be held in Kalispell on Friday, Brendan said.

“He was probably the most decent person you’d ever want to meet,” said Brendan, who also served as the co-chair of Stephens’ gubernatorial campaign. “He brought decency and honesty back to state government while he was governor.”

Stephens is survived by his two daughters Lannie Gilling and Carol Donaldson of Kalispell, along with several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Ann Stephens died in 2017.

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