1976 Bicentennial

Betty Higby, superintendent of the Denver Mint, holds the first Centennial medal to come off the presses for Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm on Monday at the Denver Mint, Jan. 20, 1975. The Colorado Centennial medal was the only state medal in the U.S. authorized by Congress to be issued in connection with the nation’s Bicentennial in 1976.

Colorado's top politicos were quick to express condolences and praise for former Gov. Dick Lamm, who died at 85 years old Thursday.

The mercurial former governor was sometimes friends and sometimes adversaries with many of those in his own party, as well as other parties. Lamm himself was once a third-party candidate, demonstrating his appeal across party lines.

Lamm was Colorado's 38th governor who enjoyed a long relationship with the 40th, Republican Gov. Bill Owens.

Owens on Friday morning recalled their hours-long debates before students at the University of Denver over such weighty issues as climate change and foreign policy. Both had started out as legislators, and Owens said he considered it a high compliment when legislative researchers told him the only public official they could recall requesting as much data was Lamm.

Then in 1999, on the day a massacre at Columbine High School was unfolding, Owens was less than 100 days into his first term and reached out, partly in courtesy, to former Govs. Roy Romer and Lamm.

Lamm seemed to hear the stress in the new governor's voice. Owens conceded Friday that his own three children at the time were about the age of the students at Columbine.

"Dick hears the tremor in my voice and says, 'Remember you're the father of Colorado now,'" Owens recalled. "He was telling me, 'This is a time for you to stand up and lead, to buckle yourself in and make sure you're ready.'

"As I went out and did these tough press conferences, met the families and went to the funerals, I was always thinking of what Dick said: You can't see a governor in times of crisis and tragedy be weak." 

DICK LAMM | A roundup of our coverage of the former governor through the years

Colorado's current governor, Democrat Jared Polis, thanked Lamm for his service to the state and expressed condolences for his family.

"Gov. Lamm took on tough issues, and he never shied away from civil political discourse and embraced collaboration," Polis said. "Gov. Lamm’s legacy and leadership will be remembered in our state’s history as well as his work to make Colorado an even more amazing place.”

Colorado's senior senator, Michael Bennet, called Lamm “a visionary leader and an inspired public servant."

He cited the former governor's "independent thinking, innovative spirit and commitment to service," which Bennet said were the best qualities of Coloradans.

"He loved our state and devoted his life to making it better," he said in a statement.

Former Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is now a U.S. senator, called Lamm "a classic example of a life well-lived," and referred to his predecessor as a mentor.

Hickenlooper continued, "He showed you could have the courage of your convictions and make the times catch up to you rather than wait for change. I’m grateful for his mentorship and know his mark on Colorado will endure for years to come.”

John Suthers, Colorado's former Republican attorney general and now the mayor of Colorado Springs, said he was saddened by the news.

"I found Governor Lamm to be a fascinating public figure," he said in a statement. "I really didn’t get to know him until after his tenure as governor, but over the ensuing decades I shared a podium with him on several occasions and even debated him twice.

"He was politically fearless, articulating positions that weren’t embraced by the general public or, in many cases, by members of his own political party. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever met a politician who was so candid about his mistakes. He even once confessed to a Bar Association group that he put 'too many liberals' on the state Supreme Court."

Suthers said Lamm once called himself an “idiot” for opposing the construction of Colorado 470, the 28-mile bypass from Centennial to Golden.

"Dick Lamm was a statesman, and we need more people like him,” Suthers said.

In a statement, Colorado's current attorney general, Democrat Phil Weiser, said, “Dick Lamm loved Colorado.

"Our state has lost an important leader and I have lost a valued colleague and friend. Governor Lamm — as a teacher, elected official, and leader — touched so many lives and served our state with great distinction. My thoughts go out to Dottie and his family.

"I will miss his support and friendship. His memory will live on as a blessing.”

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock took to Twitter Friday morning to express admiration for the late former governor.

"I have always admired Dick Lamm," he tweeted. "His leadership was transformational for Colorado. He ushered in a commitment to the environment that lives with us today. He was an original policy thinker, innovative and direct in his communication. We are in a better place for his leadership."

Dick Wadhams, a political strategist and former chair of the Colorado Republican Party, came of age watching Lamm rise as a Democrat in a state that had been solidly red before him. He remembered when he was a teenager, in 1973, Lamm walked the state in support of his bid for governor and arrived with fanfare in Wadhams' hometown of Las Animas. 

"I thought this guy was the real deal," Wadhams said Friday. "He was exciting. He was really a different kind of candidate."

Lamm appealed across party lines and especially to Colorado moderates, with a lean to the left on the environment and abortion, while becoming a budget hawk who wanted to curb entitlements and lower health care costs.

"I was kind of in awe of Gov. Lamm," Wadhams said.

“I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of former Governor Lamm and send my heartfelt condolences to his family,” said Senate President Leroy Garcia of Pueblo. “Colorado is forever grateful for his dedication to public service and the impact he had on our great state. He will always be remembered as a devoted leader who never let political differences get in the way of doing the right thing for the people of Colorado.”

Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg of Boulder added that Lamm "served Colorado with the intention of improving the lives of every Coloradan, and he will be sorely missed by all. He brought people together, took on difficult challenges, and led with poise, grace, and compassion. Despite this difficult loss, his legacy will live on and his work he did as governor will continue to inspire us. My thoughts are with his loved ones during this challenging time.”

Colorado State Treasurer Dave Young also expressed his condolences. 

“I'm deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former Governor Dick Lamm,” Young said in a statement. “Governor Lamm was always unafraid to push forward ideas and concepts with a focus on making Colorado, and our world better. His many accomplishments will cement his legacy as a Colorado leader. His loss will be felt throughout our state, and I send my deepest condolences to Dottie and the Lamm family.”

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