If you haven’t been around state government or politics much in the last four decades, you might not know Jim Soyer.

For most of that time, until he retired in 2015, Jim was as much a fixture around the Capitol building as that statue of General Beadle at the far end of the second floor. Like Beadle, Soyer spent a lot of time on that floor. Well, sure. He was a member of several governors’ staffs, from Bill Janklow in 1979 through George Mickelson, Walt Miller, Mike Rounds and Dennis Daugaard. Governors valued his talent and wisdom.

If you visited the Capitol building during Soyer’s time, you might have passed him in the hall. Most likely, you’d have paid him little notice. A child, catching a smile from a round-faced, thick-bearded man in glasses, might think it was Santa’s brother. Adults would have seen a relatively nondescript guy in a tie and rumpled sport jacket, arms filled with papers and PowerPoint printouts.

He’d have been on his way to one meeting or another. Often those meetings didn’t really get going until he was in the room. He was kind of important, but he didn’t look it. I think he liked it that way.

Soyer died on Oct. 15. He was 74, but the twinkle in his eyes never grew older than about 12.

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I met him when I worked for the wire service in Pierre. He was selling ads for the local newspaper. We exchanged pleasantries a few times. I found that I rather enjoyed his gentle manner and his grasp of election statistics, political events and history in general.

When Janklow took office for the first of four terms in 1979, he brought Soyer into state government as his press secretary. Janklow is credited with many things. Linking Soyer and state government was one of his shrewder moves. Soyer brought to state government many skills, including research, writing, organizing the executive branch’s legislative tracking and just making sure things got done.

Who knew that would be his career when he graduated from Northern State? One of his first jobs was teaching in a high school. He liked to tell of his first year in the classroom, when he tried to interest students in the second anniversary of Earth Day. As he outlined how the class might observe the day, one student raised his hand. “Mr. Soyer, we had that last year.’’ Jim thought that was too funny.

Being Janklow’s first press secretary was either easy or nearly impossible. Janklow always gave his public statements in person. No spokesperson for him. Soyer fielded reporters’ calls and passed on the messages to Janklow, who would call back when he was ready. Jim was honest about it.

Reporter: “When can I speak with the governor?’’ Soyer: “I don’t know. Your request is on his desk.’’

It sometimes frustrated reporters. I’m sure it sometimes frustrated Soyer, but I never heard him complain – not about the reporters’ requests or about his inability to move the process along at his pace instead of Janklow’s. I did sometimes call Jim and ask if he’d go into the governor’s office and make sure my request was at the top of the list. He said he would.

If you’ve heard public comments by any of the governors he served, you’ve undoubtedly heard phrases and concepts written by Soyer. He drafted many speeches for governors in his time. He researched their issues and sometimes prepared slides and Power Points to illustrate the issues the governors discussed. He was a terrific researcher. Quite often when a governor challenged a story of mine, I wished Jim weren’t quite so good at digging out every last fact ever published on the topic.

In the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, Jim and I sat in Pierre’s Lariat Lanes on a number of Saturday mornings and watched our kids bowl. In those times, he was just another guy watching a kid. We talked about world events, grade-school happenings and state history. Sometimes we mixed in a little politics.

It occurred to me that if I hadn’t been a reporter and he a governor’s staffer, we might have been friends.