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April 26: A Meaningful Legacy

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William Lewis Guy was born on September 30th, 1919 in Devils Lake. He graduated from Amenia High School and North Dakota Agricultural College (now North Dakota State University). He earned a master’s from the University of Minnesota. During World War II he served in the Navy.

After the war, he toyed with the idea of venturing into politics and was courted by Republicans. He told his wife that the Democrats were a better fit, but at the time, he saw no political future in North Dakota unless you were a Republican. She told him, “Maybe there could be a Democratic Party if people wouldn’t give up before they start.” With that encouragement, he ran as a Democrat.

In 1959, Guy was elected to the North Dakota House of Representatives where he served as Assistant Minority Floor Leader. In 1961, he was elected governor. He served two two-year terms and two four-year terms. Far from the bombastic style of some politicians, one profile of the governor said he “put the middle in the middle of the road” and his speaking style was “charitably described as deliberate.” No one called him dramatic or glamorous.

Notwithstanding his quiet and deliberate demeanor, Guy was a dynamic governor. He oversaw the establishment of eight regional mental health districts to decrease the State Hospital’s patient load. He called this his proudest achievement, since mental health patients were no longer warehoused, but were treated in their communities and able to live more satisfying lives.

Several large-scale federal projects came to the state under his watch including the interstate highway system and the Garrison Diversion. He championed the development of North Dakota as a critical element in America’s nuclear deterrence program. He was instrumental in bringing three sugar beet refineries to the state, along with large-scale coal-fired electrical generation. He established the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award – the state’s highest recognition.

William Guy passed away on this date in 2013, leaving a legacy of service behind him. In office from 1961 to 1973, Guy is North Dakota’s longest serving governor. He has been described as “the force behind the modernization of North Dakota.” U.S. District Judge Myron Bright said of Guy, “He will be remembered as one of this state’s great public servants.”

Dakota Datebook by Dr. Carole Butcher


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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