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Montana storyteller, lobbyist and political aide Alec Hansen dies at 81

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Alec Hansen

Alec Hansen

Those who knew Alec Hansen remember him for his wit, his ability to tell a great story and his resolve for bringing truth to power.

Hansen, 81, died April 24 at his home in Missoula. He had received care from Hestia Hospice for one year, family members said. His son, Eamon, 42, died hours later that same day due to a longtime illness.

A Mass will be held at noon Tuesday at the Cathedral of St. Helena for Alec and Eamon. A reception will follow at the Holter Museum of Art. 

Alec Hansen had worked as a journalist and as an aide for two governors, and was head of the Montana League of Cities and Towns for more than 30 years, where he had also served as a lobbyist.

“He was an incredible guy,” his daughter, Lucy, said. “My dad was a legendary lobbyist at the Capitol. You could write a 500-page newspaper article on my dad and you could never touch on the man that he was.”

She said he was a true Montana man, “but he was a Butte kid. One of his famous things he would say is the Hansens stop where the pavement ends.”

His wife, Colleen, said she will remember her husband mostly for his laugh.

“He had just a real wit,” she said, adding he was mostly Norwegian, but had an Irish wit.

“And he was a storyteller,” Colleen said.

Tim Burton, now serving as Helena’s interim city manager, said he has known Hansen since 1984. Burton succeeded Hansen at the League of Montana Cities and Towns when Hansen retired.

“He just had a wonderful personality and he could tell a story like nobody else,” Burton said, adding Hansen was a big history buff.

“He would tell a story about history, there would be humor involved and he could captivate an audience like nothing I have ever seen,” Burton said.

“He was a very colorful character and a good man and I have nothing but respect for Alec and his family. He is good people,” he said. “He will be missed.”

Bob Brown, a former Montana secretary of state, said he interviewed Hansen a few years ago for a project on historical characters.

“I called him and it led to a delightful interview,” Brown said Friday. “He had a great sense of humor and he was a great storyteller.”

He said Hansen always had a smile on his face, was positive and was always very well informed.

“He had a very warm nature and a wonderful way of telling a story,” Brown said.

Evan Barrett, who also served in Democratic administrations with Hansen and as an economic director, also recalled Hansen as an “amazing storyteller who had a rapier wit.”

Barrett, a historian, said you did not want to be “on the wrong side of a verbal jab by Alec, you could never beat him.”

“He was really intelligent and fun to be around too,” Barrett said. “Alec was a great asset for anybody he worked for, whether in the political arena or governmental. He was a good friend.”

Barrett said Hansen served as a speech writer for two Democratic governors, Forrest Anderson and Tom Judge.

“His judgment was good,” he said. “He was not ever afraid to say things the way they are. He always spoke truth to the powerful and was extraordinarily effective for the Montana League of Cities and Towns.

“He was always to the point, sharp, absolutely spot on and often entertaining,” Barrett said.

Alexander Niels Hansen was born in Butte on March 10, 1941.

When he was 7 he began to sell The Montana Standard newspapers on the corner of Main and Granite Street in Butte. 

After discharging from the Navy in 1968, he worked as a news and sports reporter for The Montana Standard until in September of 1969.

Tip, Pat, Dad.jpg

From left, U.S. House speaker Thomas "Tip" O'Neill, Rep. Pat Williams and Alec Hansen.

In 1971 he married Colleen Clancy of Helena in the chapel at Carroll College. They had two children: Lucy and Eamon.

When Democratic Gov. Forrest Anderson needed a speech writer, some of Hansen's Montana Standard readers recommended Hansen to Anderson, family members said. He worked for Democrat Gov. Tom Judge as well.

Hansen headed the Montana League of Cities and Towns for 32 years, until he retired in 2014. The League was one of the first groups in Montana to establish self-insurance for Workers’ Compensation. Then, it established a health program to ensure the small towns could survive.

Family members said he loved lobbying the Legislature.

Hansen’s son, Eamon, died about eight hours after his father. He had suffered from multiple sclerosis, Addison’s disease and pneumonia.

He had a passion for baseball and golf.

"Eamon was intelligent, articulate and gifted," family members said. "He had such a fun and beautiful spirit."

Alec grew ill in early 2021, family members said, adding he and Eamon remained in the home, mostly in silence, until their deaths.

"Perhaps the bonds of Earth were slipping by them, even then," they said.

Donations or memorials for both may be sent to the Montana Historical Society, 555 Roberts St., Helena, or the Babe Ruth League in Helena.

Assistant editor Phil Drake can be reached at 406-231-9021.

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