Just a few minutes ago, I got a text informing me former legislator and commercial airline pilot Hal Wick is about to embark on his greatest ride into the sky as he succumbed to cancer earlier today.
Hal was first elected to the House in 1976 and last served in the House in 2014. In many ways, Hal embodied the concept of a citizen legislator. He’d come to Pierre serve, “retire,” come back for a few terms, “retire”, come back. He served 20 years and “retired” four times.
Because I was planning to graduate high school mid-year, I was looking for something to do and in Pierre in the winter, being a Legislative intern was ideal. But, I wasn’t yet in college so LRC wasn’t hiring me. Somehow my mom’s college sorority sister and Redfield State Senator Mary McClure found out about these two Junior House members not in leadership who wanted a private intern they’d pay personally out of their own pocket.
So, the night before session started, I went to the King’s Inn and met a lawyer from Kimball named Ron Miller and a Sioux Falls airline pilot named Hal Wick. After Ron told me how he read every bill every night, he would give me his notes and wanted me to type up his amendments. Some of which were clean-up, some of which were substantive, some he submitted, and some he didn’t.
Hal then said he was exactly the opposite. He was not going to know a little bit about everything but had a single focus on State Constitutional and legislative limits on regulations and tax increases. Additionally, he was going to promote a federal Balanced Budget Amendment and to show its viability he was going to point out how our less frugal approach to “federal dollars” was a betrayal of fiduciary to our nation.
While I loved working for Ron Miller and came to appreciate how he was a under-appreciated contributor to good government, what Hal told me sounded like I was going to change the world. It was a great session working for Hal. While other interns were sitting in boring committees, I was over at the State Library pulling economic articles written by Friedman, Laffer, and Hayek and transcripts from Bill Buckley’s PBS show.
The instructions were fuzzy- “I think about 8 years ago, Buckley had this guy on his show and he said something like this. I need the exact quote” or “Milton wrote about this. I need that article.”
At the end of the week, he took everything with him home to write his speeches. They weren’t really speeches but short points prepared to make a single point. For the life of me, I’d look at the calendar and not even imagine when he was going to use the research. But, sure enough, somebody would make an argument that sounded good but was economically unsound. And, when Hal rose to speak, half the body groaned because it wasn’t going to be short and many didn’t want to hear what he had to say.
But Hal didn’t care about being popular. He not only enjoyed a bit of his gadfly status, Hal was convinced he was saying what needed to be said. So he said it and said it and said it. And, I was so proud to be his intern.
And, the next year when I was at Augustana, I ran into Hal he told me wasn’t running again. Ronald Reagan was President and all he had to say was better said by Reagan. Plus, I think he just didn’t like the process of legislating. It wasn’t like flying Boeing 707’s. This was the first time I had a glimpse of Hal’s humility. He could walk away and it didn’t matter.
So, after I moved to Sioux Falls in 1993 (13 years after he first retired), I was surprised when he told me he was going to run again. He won in 1994 and began his off and on period of serving until he retired for what ended up being for good in 2014. As he and I lived in the same district, I teased him I expect him to serve again until they put him in the nursing home.
Now, with that background, I want to tell you about what I know about the man I knew.
Hal Wick was a very simple man.
• He loved his wife, Jane, and family. My dad was absent but Hal was one of the men who showed me what a husband and father was supposed to be.
• He loved his God and took his faith seriously. I don’t think I ever heard him try to sell a public policy by invoking God but I do remember him telling me integrity was about having a unified life. Not just being against abortion, Hal believed every policy he advocated was a brick in building God’s kingdom on earth.
• He was a good friend. During my darkest period, Hal Wick checked in on me and told me he was praying for me. I heard that a lot but with Hal’s simple integrity, I knew it was true.
Probably because his confidence in his brilliant intellect and copious research (which probably is also why he was a pilot), Hal struggled with humility. The first thing he asked me after every speech was “What came across as arrogant.” How many people do you know who know their weakness and work hard to overcome it? I can tell you not many in politics aspire to humility but Hal Wick did.
In addition to missing Jane when he served, I think it is his pursuit of his personal holiness “required” him to step away from politics. I think that is what he meant after one of his “retirements” when he told me his not being in the Legislature is “better for me.” Hal certainly loved politics, serving in the Legislature but it wasn’t who he was. Hal Wick is a child of God, a husband and a father. It was a privilege to have had him to look up to since I met him 39 years go.
With sadness, Hal now joins Bill Grams, Harold Halverson, and Joe Barnett on my personal Legislature Mt. Rushmore. May the soul of Hal G. Wick, by the Mercy of God, Rest in Peace.