As we move through early fall and into the final weeks before this midterm election in November, I’ve been thinking of those that served our state in past legislative sessions.
You may remember Frank DeFilippo, who served in the state House for six years beginning in 1978. He was a young, energetic guy who never seemed to move fast enough to keep up with his enthusiasm — he’s still that same guy. Frank was a great public servant who later served as a member of the transition teams for both President Reagan and Gov. Bill Owens. As a graduate of the School of Mines and a professional engineer, after his service to the state, he served on the School of Mines’ board of trustees, and he’s still living in the foothills and giving back to the community.
Sally Hopper served in the state Senate from 1987 until 1999. Sally’s husband, George, was a well-known Colorado attorney who died the year she was elected. Many remember George as the visiting “Santa Claus” in our foothills. I will never forget the look of awe on my children’s faces as George made his Christmas Eve visit. Remarkably, Sally threw herself into tireless giving to Senate District 16 after she lost George. While in the Senate, she served as chair of the Health, Environment and Welfare Committee, helped establish Broomfield County, and ran legislation to help form our state’s historic preservation program, among the many programs and legislation she championed.
Since her retirement from the Senate, Sally serves as one of Colorado’s two advisers to the National Trust for Historic Preservation; she’s served on dozens of boards, including the University Hospital board; she serves on the state’s Ethics Commission; and with her four daughters she began the George W. Hopper Foundation, which funds programs that work with middle-school-age girls.
Anyone that has lived in the foothills or, for that matter, in Colorado will remember the great service that Tony Grampsas gave to House District 25 and our state. Tony served in the state House for 14 years, starting in 1984, he then was elected to the state Senate and served until his death from cancer in early 1999.
My husband and I held a “neighborhood coffee” for Tony when we lived on Lookout Mountain during his first election. I was always struck by his warmth, huge smile and total focused attention he gave anyone he met. If you “Google” Tony, his search lasts for 47 pages — this is the good work he left behind after his service to the state. There are grants, dog parks, memorials and a cancer center that all carry his name. Tony’s greatest impact for our district and the state may have been his work on the Joint Budget Committee where he served from 1991 to 1998. Tony began a tradition for our district by taking the helm and serving on the joint House-Senate six-member committee that sets and, in large part, controls the state budget.
In 1999, Dr. John Witwer took Tony’s place in the state House as Tony moved to the Senate. John was quickly recognized as a leader in the House. His fellow legislators called him “Dr. Data” due to his keen mind and great intellect. I know he will blush as he reads this, but it’s true. As a freshman legislator, it was such a pleasure to be reminded by staff and legislators of John’s good humor and kindness. You may remember that he also served on the Joint Budget Committee at a very tough time in our state. Following the horror of September 11th, our country and state suffered through sorrow and recession. John’s clear understanding of state government helped cut the budget, recognizing the financial strains the people of Colorado were experiencing.
You can’t keep a great idea secret, so it should have been no surprise that Gov. Owens drafted John in June 2005 to take over the management of the Colorado Benefits Management System — not an easy task. At the end of the Owens’ administration, John moved on to serving on the Jefferson County Citizen Budget Review Panel and teaching young medical professionals at Red Rocks Community College.
With John’s departure, the Republican vacancy committee interviewed several candidates to replace John. Fortunately, they chose his son Rob, and we are forever in their debt. Rob Witwer served the remainder of John’s term and one more for the betterment of Colorado. Rob has become what many believe is the future of the conservative movement — common sense and an understanding of the people of Colorado. As for me, I look forward to his future service in political office. Until then, he still serves with his regular column in the Courier.
So, if you feel a bit cynical and tire of the constant hammering of politicians in their campaign ads, arguments of talk radio and bad news of the economy — take a breath. Remember our foothills communities and our past servants of the people. These are politicians who gave their time, their talent and their treasure. They served us well and they keep on serving, either through their legacy or in their present works. I believe their motivation can be best described in a quote from Congressman Eric Cantor: “I developed a vision of America and its promise. In its purest sense, America is about looking forward. It’s about the quest for freedom and opportunity. It’s about persevering to pass on something better for your children than you inherited.”
George Washington refused to join a political party during his political career, but he did join the Society of Cincinnati founded in 1783. He served as its first president; the society’s credo reflects that ethic of selfless service: “Omnia relinquit servare republicam” (“He relinquished everything to save the republic”). In other words, each man should put down his plow, serve his country and return to his plow.
I, for one, am grateful for those who have served our state — despite the “noise” of our process.
State Rep. Cheri Gerou, a Republican, is unopposed in this year’s election.