Wednesday was already a difficult day for Tony Doom. When he heard the news that longtime friend and former state Sen. Gary DeCramer had died, it was almost too much for him to bear.
Doom, who started out in politics back in 1968 and served for the Lyon County DFL from 1980 when he ran Jim Nichols' campaign until his retirement from politics in 2008, learned about DeCramer's passing after attending the funeral for Sen. Gary Kubly.
Photo courtesy of Tony Doom
Senate candidate, the late Gary DeCramer, middle, is joined after the 1982 DFL primaries by congressional candidate Jim Nichols, far left, gubernatorial candidate Rudy Perpich, Dave Ness, District 27A House candidate, and Randy Stofferahn, District 27B candidate, at Southwest State University.
Doom said there are three days in his personal/professional life he will never forget - the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the day former Sen. Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash, and Wednesday.
"My first impulse was to go to the bathroom and bawl, but when I collected myself I simply had to bow and say some prayers and reflect," Doom said of his reaction upon hearing of the death of DeCramer, a fellow Belgian and Doom's best man at his wedding. "We were bonded like brothers."
Kubly's battle with ALS ended last Friday; he was 68. DeCramer died Wednesday morning at age 67.
Doom had strong ties to both men and said they had much more in common than a first name.
Both put people before politics. Both cared deeply about agriculture and education issues, and anything related to natural resources. And both knew what it took to get things done and didn't worry about what side of the political aisle they sat on.
"These guys governed in a nonpartisan manner," Doom said. "They were there to govern for their district and their state, not for what's best for their party as it is today. It's gone 180 degrees into a mean-spirited arena. These were different times with different people - I'm talking about the Cal Ludemans, the Arne Carlsons, the Jim Girards, the Gary Kublys, the Denny Fredericksons, the Gary DeCramers."
A quick study reveals that Doom is mixing in Republicans and Democrats when reflecting on past elected officials. He said back in the 1980s, politicians were more concerned about their constituents than their party. Public officials like DeCramer, Frederickson, Jim Vickerman, and Kubly weren't defined by the letter behind their name.
"They worked together for what's best for their district," Doom said. "They didn't consider 'my career, my party,' as they do today."
Partisanship certainly existed back in the '80s, but these were the days, Doom said, when compromise was an action, not just a word, days before government shutdowns.
"I don't recall that word even being in anyone's vocabulary back then," said Doom.
Doom's history with DeCramer goes back to 1981. DeCramer won his first election 30 years ago this year, and Doom was right by his side from the start. He remembers DeCramer the person, a close friend to late poet Bill Holm, as a man who loved the arts, Garrison Keillor and a good tobacco pipe.
"He couldn't get enough of Garrison Keillor. I remember once driving down to Worthington with him for a meeting, he and I didn't say a word between Marshall and Worthington - it was all Garrison Keillor on the radio. That was Gary's joy, his R & R," he said.
DeCramer's political career got off to an inauspicious beginning. Then-Sen. Nichols resigned in 1981 after losing his wife in an accident. DeCramer ran as the DFL party candidate to replace Nichols in a special election and lost to Randy Kamrath, still fresh off his loss to Nichols - so fresh that he still had campaign signs up from that election. Doom was the DFL nominating committee chairman at the time and said DeCramer, a relative unknown then, entered the race to replace Nichols three days before the convention.
"He was in high gear," Doom said. "He contacted everybody and said, 'Here I am, here's what I can do.' After eight ballots, at midnight, he finally got the endorsement. That night, I became his treasurer. Our campaign office was my basement."
DeCramer would later run in 1982 after redistricting turned District 20 into District 27. He won the party endorsement at 3:40 in the morning in Pipestone and Doom became DeCramer's campaign manager and treasurer. DeCramer defeated Steve Perkins, who was the mayor of Pipestone, by 190 votes. A 200-vote margin was the threshold for a mandatory recount at that time, but a math error revealed that DeCramer was shorted 30 votes, leaving his margin of victory at 220. Still, a recount took place, but Perkins eventually conceded after new totals from Lyon, Lincoln and Pipestone counties showed even more votes for DeCramer.
From July 1991-Feb. 1992, DeCramer served as interim president of Southwest State University (now Southwest Minnesota State University).
Before his death, he was a director for the Master of Public Affairs Program and a Senior Lecturer at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs since 2002.
To this day, DeCramer is the last DFLer to represent the city of Marshall in the Legislature. He went on to serve in SD27 until 1992.
Doom goes back with Kubly even further - to 1976 when Kubly was a pastor at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Dovray. That's when the two started a business relationship together. After Kubly accepted a call at First Lutheran Church in Granite Falls, their relationship became professional and personal.
Kubly first ran for the Legislature in 1976, "and we've been in touch ever since," Doom said. "Party lines were immaterial to him."
Locally, Kubly was the last of the old guard of politicians, along with Frederickson and Vickerman; the three put in more than 30 years of public service and were staunch advocates for rural issues.
"Let's hope we can replace them with some people with a like mindset," Doom said. "You can only pray that it happens. I believe, too, we've lost some of the some of the good, old guard through retirement because of frustration with how things are today, and that's true at the state and national levels."
Doom said today's politicians have a "blue or red" mentality, and wonders what happened to the days of "red, white, and blue. Those days need to be restored."
Kubly was elected to represent Senate District 20 in 2002, and before that he served three terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives. He was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease in 2010.
Doom said Kubly's faith carried him after his diagnosis and helped him campaign as his body showing signs of shutting down.
"It speaks volumes for his character, not to surrender and give in to self pity," said Doom. "That's not his makeup. His makeup was, 'here's another challenge.' He felt he could still help the people, and he had a very good staff. My first reaction would be to think about retreating and self pity, but not Gary. And all that was underwritten buy his strong faith; he was a very strong person of faith. And he accepted challenges, probably only as a person with strong faith could."
Doom also gives credit to Kubly's wife, Pat.
"You cannot mention Gary without mentioning Pat," Doom said. "She was always there - parades, county fairs, at the church - every step of the way, there was Pat. She was truly a partner."