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Whether she was yelling out "Powder River, Let 'er Buck" at the request of Jack Kemp or lecturing a Yellowstone County GOP legislator about a vote in Helena, Tillie Pierce was the quintessential Montana Republican.

She was conservative. She was direct.

In announcing her candidacy for the Legislature in 1974, she told The Billings Gazette: "Flatly, I would not vote for any bill that increases taxes." In 1982, she was just as emphatic: "Local areas should decide their own taxes."

She seldom, if ever, brooked any comeback. If someone wanted to know what was what in the GOP, Tillie would tell you.

Pierce, who for many years served on and chaired the Yellowstone County Republican Central Committee, died Tuesday. She was 84 and attended her final Pachyderm Club meeting last Friday.

"She believed deeply in the party," said her close friend, Charmaine Fisher. "Her most rewarding moment was being chosen an elector."

Pierce cast one of Montana's four Electoral College votes for George W. Bush for his election to the presidency in 2000.

As a Montana delegate, she voted for Reagan at the 1980 Republican National Convention in Detroit.

"That time we won," Fisher said referring to Reagan's failure to push President Gerald Ford off the ticket in 1976. Fisher was a delegate in 1980, too.

Pierce attended four national conventions, Fisher said, and served on the rules committee at least twice.

Fisher, who won the election in 1980 for Yellowstone County clerk of district court, recalled how Pierce rented office space in downtown Billings that year for party volunteers to support Reagan and local candidates. The party did well, controlling both chambers of the Montana Legislature when Democrat Ted Schwinden won the governor's seat. Rep. Harrison Fagg, R-Billings, was House majority leader.

"She ran a tight ship," Fisher said.

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"She was always a pleasure to be around," said Mert Klundt, who was the county's clerk and recorder.

"Yes, she was a true conservative," he said.

Fisher said, "She was so bright and socially conscious. She was educated by the nuns. She was a good friend and I have a lot of memories."

One of them was during a Republican fundraiser in 1994, when former football quarterback and U.S. Rep. Jack Kemp was the featured speaker. Pierce, having bid the highest for an autographed football, responded to a request by Kemp for the Powder River yell, which he had learned from his mother, who was from Miles City.

Pierce obliged with a sound that could be heard across the prairies of southeastern Montana.

Born in Boise, Pierce came to Billings in 1946. She was secretary of the Yellowstone County Republican Central Committee from 1970-74 and later chaired of the local organization. She gave uncounted hours to the local, state, and national party.

A vigil service is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday at St. Patrick's Co-Cathedral. A funeral Mass will be held there Wednesday at noon.

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