'Ted was clearly the John Elway of Colorado politics’

Brown: 'He pulled no punches'
The Colorado Statesman

Former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown stood before the assembled friends, colleagues and family of former Senate President Ted Strickland on Monday afternoon and prompted them to form a picture in their mind’s eye of the legendary Republican, whose career spanned five decades in Colorado politics.

Flowers surround a vintage photograph of Ted Strickland at his memorial service at the Adams County Regional Park on April 2.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“Have you got it?” he asked. “It’s impossible to see him without having a smile on his face, isn’t it?” The crowd nodded and murmured its assent.

The fond memories piled one atop the other at the crowded memorial service for Strickland, who died on March 14 after a long illness. Current and former lawmakers at all levels of government shared stories at the gathering, which drew together more than 200 people in Brighton on a chilly, overcast day.

From left, Dr. Ted Engel, former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown and Kathy Arnold, who was former Senate President Ted Strickland’s running mate when Strickland ran for governor in 1986, watch a video tribute to Strickland at his memorial service on April 2 in Brighton.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“Where some people saw problems, Ted saw solutions,” Brown said. “Ted was clearly the John Elway of Colorado politics — he pulled no punches.”

Noting that he served with Strickland during a portion of his record-setting dozen years as Senate president — a position he held in addition to state representative, Adams County commissioner and chairman of the county GOP — Brown remarked on the affection Strickland and his wife, Luanne, have had over the years for Adams County. “And they loved him too,” Brown said, noting that Strickland was routinely elected since the 1960s by Adams County voters, always running ahead of the Republican ticket in the county.

Georgia Strickland embraces Jason McCurry at a memorial service for her brother and his neighbor, Ted Strickland, on April 2 in Brighton.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“This mild-mannered, sweet-tempered, smile-on-his-face was the toughest competitor you ever saw when it came down to a political contest,” Brown observed. Still, he added, “True to form, when the vote was taken, there was no bitterness in Ted, there was no recrimination — there was only warmth and a handshake and a friendship that continued. If you think about it, that was Ted and the way he saw the world, and, hopefully, the way the world would be.”

Brown noted that Strickland didn’t let political rivalries get in the way of friendships, but pointed out that neither did he let friendships soften his politics.

Westminster City Councilman Bob Briggs and Denver Auditor Dennis Gallagher reminisce following a memorial service for Ted Strickland on April 2 in Brighton.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“He felt an obligation to others, he felt an obligation to be a gentleman, he felt an obligation to be a Christian, but he also felt an obligation to stand up for what he believed,” Brown said. “How blessed we’ve been to have Ted Strickland among us. He’s inspired multiple generations. Let’s hope his example of service is an inspiration for all Coloradans.”

RTD Director Kathi Williams and Marion Brundage catch up after a memorial service for Ted Strickland. During the service, Williams recalled for the assembled crowd fond memories of serving with Strickland in the legislature.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Adams County Commissioner Erik Hansen said he often leaned on Strickland for advice on county matters and for more personal conversations during his recent illness. Early last month, Hansen said, he asked Strickland how he was feeling, as he usually did during visits.

Adams County Public Trustee Carol Snyder and Sgt. Louis Dixon of the Adams County Sheriff’s Department visit on April 2 following a memorial service for Ted Strickland. Dixon sang the national anthem during the services.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“He always replied with the same answer: ‘I’ve had a good life, and I’m just grateful for every day the Good Lord gives me.’ And that was Ted — he was gracious, he was self-effacing, he was optimistic,” Hansen recalled.

Dr. Ted Engel, Strickland’s personal physician, called it a privilege to have known and cared for Strickland and his family over the decades.

Nola Pierce and Betty Jean Beall share memories of Ted Strickland at a memorial service for the former Senate president and Adams County commissioner.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“He was not only my friend, he was my political mentor,” said Engel, who ran for Congress in the 1980s. “Ted had an impact on everyone he met, even on those who did not share his political views. His courage, dignity and grace during his long illness should be an inspiration to all of us who are here today to pay tribute to Ted and participate in Ted’s celebration of life.”

Engel read from a letter extending condolences to Strickland’s family from Gov. John Hickenlooper. “We are a better state because of his service,” the governor concluded.

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman and Adams County Commissioner Alice Nichol share a moment at a memorial service for Ted Strickland on April 2 in Brighton.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Kathy Arnold, who served with Strickland in the state Senate and was his running mate when he made his second run for governor, in 1986, said she shared some of her deepest bonds with her one-time running mate.
Arnold remembered when President Reagan passed through Colorado to boost their gubernatorial ticket and said she marveled at Strickland’s easy friendship with the president. She also shared a strong faith with Strickland.

Adams County Commissioner Erik Hansen and Adams County Republican activist Jane Schindler share fond memories of former Senate President and Adams County Commissioner Ted Strickland at a memorial service for Strickland.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

His Christian faith, she said, “tells us that this is not only a time of sadness and memory, but a time of joy, knowing that heaven is a sure thing. Unlike political races,” she added with a quick grin. “These memories of Sen. Ted Strickland serving the people of Colorado and God will always remain, and I’m glad to have known him.”

Adams County commissioner candidate Kaarl Hoopes and Adams County Sheriff Doug Darr talk after a memorial service for Ted Strickland.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Joking that he wished he could ask Strickland for advice on Adams County politics — since his redrawn district now includes a big chunk of the county — U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman sounded a melancholy note regarding Strickland’s time in the legislature.

Coffman said he was struck looking back at the General Assembly when he was first elected to the House in the late 1980s, while Strickland still presided over the Senate.

“It was a better time for Colorado,” he said. “The politics in our state was just better. Running for the state legislature was more about shoe leather

than it was about big independent expenditures.” In the time before term limits, when giants presided over the chambers, he said, Strickland stood out even among the legends.

“I never saw him raise his voice or have that sort of partisan edge that we see so often today,” Coffman said and then looked winsomely out over the crowd. “Could another Ted Strickland rise up in the current system? I don’t know. I don’t know, but we were blessed to have him.”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com