BUTTE — Butte said farewell to one of its brightest stars Saturday.
A Butte Civic Center crowd estimated at more than 700 celebrated the life of Judy Martz, who made the Mining City proud time after time as a rodeo queen, an Olympic speed skater, and as Montana’s first female governor.
Martz, 74, died last Monday after a long fight with pancreatic cancer.
Montana political luminaries from both parties were among the throngs of people from all walks of life paying their respects to a woman who never changed despite her many successes and achievements.
“Judy was Butte through and through,” said Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, looking at the crowd filing in as friends gathered around the family before the celebration began. “And Butte people are loyal.”
A who's who of Montana Republicans assembled for the remembrance, including former Gov. Marc Racicot, Attorney General Tim Fox, U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, and state Auditor — and senatorial candidate — Matt Rosendale.
Democrats, led by Gov. Steve Bullock and Cooney, were also well-represented.
Shane Hedges, who served as Martz's top policy adviser for a time, eulogized Martz as a driven, competitive woman who always found time to help and care for others.
"Tell Judy Martz she couldn't, and she did, every single time," he said, adding that her competitive streak pushed her to show doubters and detractors that she would succeed. "Next thing you know, she's Miss Rodeo Montana. And when she was told she couldn't beat her friend Sylvia White speed-skating, she never lost to her again and ended up at the national championships and then at the Olympics in Innsbruck," he said.
"Working for (then-U.S. Sen.) Conrad Burns, she decided she wanted to be in politics herself and called Marc Racicot and said she should be his next running mate," Hedges recalled.
"She soared as lieutenant governor. She crisscrossed the state, listening to people, and they came to know her as their champion," Hedges said.
Then when she ran for governor, "the good old boys didn't get the memo about not motivating Judy by telling her she couldn't," he said, "And boy did they tell her.
"She responded by ... winning the primary and winning the governorship, despite being outspent by $2 million."
"Judy Martz was real," Hedges said. "She was authentic. She connected with working men and women, loggers and miners and cowboys.
"Her path was not easy," he said. "Hell hath no fury like the scorn of men when a woman is blazing a path through their territory."
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He talked of Martz's loyalty, and unflinchingly used himself as an example. "In the darkest hours of my life, Judy's character was like a bright light," he said, referring to his alcohol-fueled accident that took the life of his best friend, Montana House Majority Leader Paul Sliter.
Martz narrowly escaped obstruction charges after taking Hedges from the hospital that night to the governor's mansion before he had been interviewed by the Highway Patrol and by laundering the torn and bloodied clothing he wore.
"She had to fire me," Hedges said Saturday. "But she wouldn't fire me. So I resigned, and Judy wept, for Paul and for me."
Hedges said that when he asked Martz recently what she was proudest of in her tenure as governor, she said, "The team we built and the promises we kept."
Chuck Butler, who served as her communications director, said before the memorial Saturday that Martz would be remembered for her courage in going against her advisers and using the governor's "silver bullet" to name Libby a Superfund site after the town was found to be seriously contaminated with asbestos and for taking steps that led to the removal of the Milltown Dam — an unusual legacy for a Republican governor.
But then, Martz was an unusual governor.
Her nephew, Rev. Rob Crippen, said that one night during Martz's term as governor he was trying to drive straight through from Glendive to Butte to visit his family and made it as far as the Helena Walmart, where he decided to get out and walk around a little and revive himself for the last leg of the drive.
"Who do I run into at Walmart? Aunt Judy, dressed to the nines, with her Highway Patrol escort, at 1 a.m., shopping and talking to everyone in sight," he said.
"She loved going to Walmart, and I dreaded" going with her, he said. "'Just to get a couple things' took three hours if you were lucky. She talked to everybody. She wanted to know them."
Each speaker — Hedges, Martz's son-in-law Abe Boomer, and Crippen — talked about her genuine interest in people. "She just cared," Boomer and Crippen both said.
Crippen said that earlier last week he was driving a delivery truck and made a delivery to a person he knew. When he told the person he'd lost his aunt and who she was, "He just deflated. He said, 'She saved my life.'"
He said the man related a story about losing his brother in his teens, becoming despondent himself, and considering taking his own life.
"He said he was working at the Dairy Queen on Excelsior, and Judy would come in late in the evening when it wasn't busy and order something and ask him to sit with her while she ate. And they just talked.
"He said there wasn't one particular thing she said that turned it around for him. It was just that she was there, and she cared."
Crippen said, "Judy Martz never gave up. She never gave up on anything or anyone."