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Thomson had 'an arm lock' on Capitol

Jun 13, 2013 - McClatchy Newspapers

Wyoming's longest-serving state-level politician died Tuesday at the age of 96.

CHEYENNE -- The sun has set on the long life of one of Wyoming's most storied political personalities.

Thyra Thomson, who served as Wyoming's secretary of state from 1963 to 1987, died Tuesday evening in Cheyenne. She was 96.

The longest-serving state-level politician in Wyoming's history, Thomson, a Republican, once said in 1985 that she had "an arm lock on this place," referring to the State Capitol. And after winning six elections and working alongside three governors, two Republican and one Democrat, she may have had a point.

Born Thyra Godfrey on July 30, 1916, in Florence, Colo., Thomson moved to Cheyenne in her teens and graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1939 with a degree in psychology.

That same year, she married E. Keith Thomson of Newcastle, and went on to win a president's citation for her home-front war effortsduring World War II. Keith, meanwhile, became the youngest infantry battalion commander in the U.S. forces at the time.

After the war, the Thomsons became involved in statewide politics, with Keith winning election first to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1954, and then to the U.S. Senate in 1960, only to die of a heart attack one month later.

Having joined her husband in Washington, D.C., Thomson returned to Wyoming in 1962 and won election in her own right to become the state's first female secretary of state.

In addition to serving as acting governor in the absence of Govs. Clifford Hansen, Stanley Hathaway and Edgar Herschler, Thomson was also a strong advocate for women, arguing for equal pay and access to affordable day care as women began entering the workforce en masse in the 1970s.

She also pushed for regulations on the sale of new issues of securities, and in 1974 was elected president of the North American Securities Administrators. Additionally, she was elected three times as vice president of the National Conference of Lieutenant Governors, despite not holding the title herself n in Wyoming, the secretary of state is the de facto lieutenant governor and becomes acting governor when the serving governor is absent or otherwise unable to serve.

Thomson was also engaged internationally, taking part in the Wilton Park Conferences in England, International Women's Year in West Germany, and traveling extensively on behalf of Wyoming interests to Columbia, Jordan, Tunisia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Despite her many accomplishments, Thomson had humility and a great deal of love for her family.

In 1985, when asked why she never set her political sights any higher, Thomson told The Bulletin, a central Oregon newspaper, that "I remembered an old saying about the stock market: 'If you can't sleep nights worrying about the market, sell down to sleep level.'

"You know, I was at sleep level," she added. "I love my job as secretary of state. My kids were doing wonderfully. I began to think like a mama. I wanted the best for my three sons.

"I thought I'd better stay where I was. If we packed up and moved to Washington, it would disrupt their lives again. To be governor would mean depriving them of a great deal of attention they deserved."

As news of her passing spread, many Wyoming politicians issued statements lauding Thomson's accomplishments and mourning her loss.

"Thyra is one of the most highly regarded political figures in Wyoming's history, for her many accomplishments and also for the length of her tenure in office," Gov. Matt Mead said in a statement issued from British Columbia, Canada, where he is touring coal ports. "I have known her since childhood as a wonderful person with an immense amount of character and an abiding love for Wyoming. (First lady) Carol and I will miss her n the entire state of Wyoming will miss her."

Secretary of State Max Maxfield, who is currently acting governor in Mead's absence, ordered flags flown at half-staff through Friday, June 21. He too issued a statement regarding his predecessor.

"Wyoming has lost a legendary public servant and a vanguard of her time," Maxfield said. "Her contributions to her beloved state are immeasurable and significant in the legacy she leaves us all."

Additional condolences came from U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, University of Wyoming President Tom Buchanan and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill.

A memorial service for Thomson is scheduled for June 21 in Cheyenne, with exact times and location still pending.

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