Woster: Farrar didn't seek attention, but was always in public eye

Farrar died over the weekend at age 92. He was the state’s last one-term Republican governor.


I shouldn’t have been surprised that former South Dakota Gov. Frank Farrar became a triathlon fanatic. I saw early on how well he could swim.

One early-summer weekend in 1970, as I lounged with my family on the Farm Island swimming beach, Farrar drove up, parked the executive sedan and walked across the sand into the water. He swam across the lake to the island and back. When he left the beach, he paused to greet us, especially the two kids. He wasn’t even breathing hard. That’s something not every governor could do.

Farrar died over the weekend at age 92. He was the state’s last one-term Republican governor. He lost re-election in 1970. A short time as governor, maybe, but he became the longest serving former governor in our state’s history, respected and admired by many. In his way, perhaps, he was something like Jimmy Carter, the Democrats’ one-term president who became a remarkable former president.

Farrar became a dedicated and competent competitor in the ironman triathlon, a race that involves a long swim followed by a long, long bicycle ride and then a punishingly long run. He competed in those torturous events everywhere. He entered triathlons across South Dakota, too. At a competition in Chamberlain 10 or 12 years ago, I asked him why he still participated “at your age.’’ He smiled and said he just wanted to make sure he still could.

Besides, he added with a chuckle, “I make a lot of competitors feel good when they pass me so easily.’’ In his later years, he labored through the swimming portion of the competition, pedaled slowly over the bike course and shuffled along on the run. But he competed. Almost always, he finished. And when he finished and recovered a bit, he wandered among the throng of other competitors and spectators, shaking hands, congratulating finishers, cooing at babies, acting every bit a person at peace with himself.


I met Farrar in the fall of 1969. I’d just started with The Associated Press in Pierre, and my boss took me along when he covered a news event at which the Republican governor announced that he had commuted the death sentence of Thomas White Hawk to life in prison. That action will be something always mentioned when people write about Farrar.

Another part of every Farrar biography will be his unexpected failure to win re-election. The signs were there in 1970. People weren’t recognizing them. Popular Congressman Ben Reifel chose not to seek re-election in the state’s 1st District. Equally popular Congressman E. Y. Berry made the same choice in the state’s 2nd District. Two solid Republican seats suddenly up for grabs. Veteran Sen. Karl Mundt suffered a stroke and couldn’t campaign for fellow Republicans. And Democrats in South Dakota were surging, especially with charismatic state Sen. Dick Kneip on the ticket in the governor’s race. It wasn’t a good year to be a Republican candidate.

As far as I know, Farrar never tried elective politics again after that loss. He didn’t disappear from the public eye, but he didn’t seek attention, either. He just went about the business of being a private citizen, although one with “former governor’’ on his resume.

One of my favorite Farrar memories is of a time he served on a committee created to find answers to the state’s property tax problems. The committee included many strong-willed, even stubborn, members. They argued often and with gusto. During one particularly heated discussion, Farrar raised his hand.

“Yes, governor,’’ the head of the committee said.

Gesturing at a tall pot of coffee and a platter of breakfast rolls the side of catchers’ mitts, Farrar said, “I move we recess and eat those rolls.’’

Disagreements continued after the break, but the conversation was less heated. Later, I asked if he’d sought the recess to let tempers cool.

“I thought it was time,’’ he said. “And I really wanted one of those rolls.’’


Just remembering that incident makes me smile. It showed a guy who knew how to take important matters seriously and still could laugh at himself. That’s a great trait, for a former governor or anybody else.

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