- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 7, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Former Gov. Tim Babcock, who served seven years as Montana’s chief executive and was a fixture on the Republican political scene for decades, has died at the age of 95.

Babcock died Tuesday morning in Helena, state Republican Party Executive Director Chris Shipp said. A cause of death was not immediately available.

Born in Littlefork, Minnesota in 1919, Babcock was elected lieutenant governor in 1960 and became the state’s chief executive two years later when a plane crash killed Gov. Don Nutter in 1962.

In 1964, Babcock narrowly won election to a four-year term as governor. He lost a U.S. Senate race to Democrat Lee Metcalf in 1966 and in 1968 lost his bid for another term as governor to Democrat Forrest Anderson.

Babcock’s wife, Betty, was a former state legislator who helped write the Montana Constitution. She died in 2013.

The Babcocks were stalwarts of the Republican Party, attending every GOP presidential nominating convention over a 60-year period. That included the 2012 convention in Tampa, Florida, where Tim Babcock was recognized as the event’s oldest delegate.

Gov. Steve Bullock on Tuesday lauded Babcock’s “long and storied history of service.”

“He was a pillar of politics in Montana,” Bullock said, “stepping up to lead our state when tragedy struck and helping to guide it through the years that followed. His presence will be missed.”

Milford “Tim” Babcock was born to homesteader parents who moved to Montana when Tim Babcock was just six-months old, according to “Challenges: Above and Beyond,” a 2009 biography written by the former governor and his wife with the help of a professional writer.

The family farmed along Crackerbox Creek in Dawson County, where Tim Babcock attended a one-room country school house before going to high school in Glendive. He served in the U.S. Army Infantry in Europe World War II, and after his return started a trucking company, Babcock & Lee, with his father-in-law.

Babcock entered politics in 1952 and served three terms in the Montana House of Representatives before agreeing to run on the 1960 gubernatorial ticket with Nutter, a longtime friend.

In January, 1962, Babcock was at the train depot in Helena about to head home when he received word that Nutter had died in a plane crash. “It was one of the emotional crises of my life,” Babcock recalled in his 2009 book. “I never aspired to be governor…It just happened. But once I became governor, I was pretty well thrust into a political life full-time.”

After leaving the governor’s office in 1969, Babcock went to work for wealthy businessman Armand Hammer as a vice president at a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum. In the ensuing years, Babcock got caught up in a campaign finance scheme linked to Hammer and Richard Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign.

The former governor pleaded guilty in 1974 to charges of violating federal laws by concealing the source of a $54,000 contribution to Nixon.

Babcock later blamed Hammer for his troubles. “I should have known he was a schemer,” he told his biographer. “He used people, and he used me too. Whenever I work for someone, I’m as loyal as I can be. Unfortunately, in this case I was too loyal.”

Babcock was fined $1,000 and sentenced to four months in jail; Hammer received a $3,000 fine and one year of probation.

Babcock’s jail term was eventually set aside by a federal judge. Hammer was pardoned in 1989 by President George Bush.

Babcock later started a mining industry consulting firm, owned a hotel in Washington state and operated a cattle ranch in Wolf Creek - but always kept a hand in politics.

State Republican Party Chairman Will Deschamps said he regularly went to the Babcocks for advice after being named to lead the GOP in 2009. Deschamps said conversations with Tim Babcock often turned to the era when Will’s father, Por, wrote bills with Babcock in smoke-filled rooms at Jorgenson’s, a restaurant in Helena where Republicans still caucus.

Funeral arrangements were being made with Anderson Stevenson Wilke for late this week.

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