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Memorials, suicide prevention programs planned to commemorate 70th anniversary of Lester Hunt’s death

A headshot of Lester Hunt. A handwritten inscription reads, "My complements to my friend Joe. Lester Hunt Sec. of State, 1940."
American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming
Lester Hunt circa 1940. The dedication to “Joe” refers to U.S. Senator Joseph O’Mahoney (D-Wyoming). O’Mahoney would go on to become a close colleague when Hunt joined the U.S. Senate in 1949.

Memorial events are scheduled for June 19 to honor the 70th death anniversary of Lester Hunt, a two-time Wyoming governor and U.S. senator. Hunt died by suicide in 1954 after a blackmail attempt by his colleagues in Congress amid the heightened political tensions and suspicions of McCarthyism.

Hunt’s portrait will be displayed in the state capitol rotunda from 10 to 11 A.M. There will be a presentation about Hunt’s life story, information about suicide prevention resources and a time of reflection.

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Cheyenne will host a healing service at 1:30 P.M. Former Wyoming state senator and Episcopal priest Bernadine Craft will deliver a suicide liturgy. Gov. Mark Gordon will also give a proclamation.

Hunt’s political career as a Democrat leading a conservative state spanned decades from 1933 to 1954. He pushed for state’s rights and a retirement system for teachers and state workers. The teacher’s system passed during his first gubernatorial term; the state workers’ system came to fruition after Hunt’s second term.

Adding the bucking horse and rider to Wyoming’s license plates was his idea, too.

Toward the end of his first U.S. Senate term, Hunt was blackmailed by allies of Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy. They threatened to make his son’s arrest for soliciting a male police officer the focal point of his reelection campaign in the year before his death.

Current state Sen. Cale Case said Hunt’s death anniversary offers an opportunity to draw attention to Wyoming’s persistently high suicide rate and the impacts of nasty politics.

“I see so many parallels between 1954 and that era and the era that we have now,” Case said. “I hope that we can use this opportunity in Wyoming to really bring attention to our astounding problem with suicide and the fact that it's it is something that we can do so much about and make such a difference, because with suicide all people really need is one person to help.”

Andi Summerville, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Centers said the most important way to help someone who’s struggling is to talk about it.

“Don’t be afraid to have that conversation,” she said. “Don't be afraid to step into that space because that conversation may very well save their life.”

Summerville and Case were recently part of a panel discussion hosted by Wyoming Public Radio that considered the parallels between Hunt’s lifetime and today. That discussion will broadcast on WPR’s Open Spaces program this Friday at 3 P.M.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. It’s free, confidential and available 24/7.

Nicky has reported and edited for public radio stations in Montana and produced episodes for NPR's The Indicator podcast and Apple News In Conversation. Her award-winning series, SubSurface, dug into the economic, environmental and social impacts of a potential invasion of freshwater mussels in Montana's waterbodies. She traded New Hampshire's relatively short but rugged White Mountains for the Rockies over a decade ago. The skiing here is much better.

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