Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa delivered the eulogy below at the October 4 memorial service for his predecessor and long time mentor and friend, Pete Cenarrusa. Cenarrusa, who died September 29, served 36 years as Idaho’s Secretary of State and was a prominent Republican figure and supporter of Basque self-determination during his long career. —Eds.
TBR Blog is a space for commentary, opinion and reports on research in progress.
I want to thank Freda and the entire Cenarrusa family for allowing me the honor and privilege to say a few words about Pete. I have a lot of stories and memories I could relate today, but I am cognizant that I am standing between a lot of Bascos and free drinks, so I will honor Father Riffle’s rule of short and sweet with a dose of humor!
A favorite quote of Pete’s by John Wesley — first told to him by former Washington Secretary of State, Ralph Munro, I believe really encapsulates what made Pete the man he was. “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can as long as you (ever) can.”
We have all read the many glowing tributes to Pete, but I believe the Statesman editorial on October 1 said it best.
Most Idahoans prefer their public servants to have a few of these attributes: integrity, honesty, fairness, loyalty, dependability. If their public servants have a long-suffering nature, are understanding, forgiving and display a sense of humor, that’s a bonus. In the event they also happened to serve their country, honor their heritage, and were good shepherds for half a century, well, that puts them in the rarest of company.
I worked for Pete 28 years and personally witnessed how he dealt with people and various problems. He set the bar pretty high by practicing the golden rule not just in life, but in politics – he treated people like he would want to be treated. One of Pete’s admonitions to all his employees was never forget who you work for – the people.
For more information on the life of Pete Cenarrusa:
Pete was a tireless advocate for any project which would advance the Basque heritage, culture and studies. He was not only a Basque leader in Idaho; his efforts were recognized throughout the world evidenced here by the attendance of Mr. Ander Caballero who is representing the Basque Government.
As Pat Bieter wrote, an ex-sheepherder whom Pete had helped had this to say: “Pete has the generous heart of a real Basque. He really believes in the Basque people and consequently they believe in him. No one who ever asked for his help was turned down.”
In the years I worked for Pete, there were many highs and a few lows, but nothing was as low as September 9, 1997 when Pete received word that his beloved son Joe was in a plane crash. We were in a Land Board meeting and he was called out by a secretary who said something and I witnessed his whole body slump and I immediately knew something was wrong. Throughout the tragedy of Joe’s death, I witnessed the strong bond between Pete and Freda and how they handled everything with strength and dignity. I’m sure they had their private moments of uncontrollable grief, but outwardly they were tough as nails. Freda indicated that they were able to get through it because they were not just husband and wife, they were also best friends. What a partnership for 66 years.
Speaking of Freda, after reading the many glowing tributes to Pete she joked, “Who are they talking about? Is this the man I argued with for 66 years!”
Pete was not a great public speaker, but unlike a lot of us here today, he knew it. He told me he’d rather take a beating than give a speech. I told him I’d rather take a beating than listen to it! When Pete gave a speech, there were three nervous people – Pete, Freda and myself. If you ever noticed, Pete’s suit jackets and sport coats were stretched extra-long from Freda tugging on him to sit down when he was speaking! When Freda was not next to Pete, she would give the slit the throat cue to end the speech. I think she just gave me that sign!
In the eight times Pete ran for reelection he seldom had an opponent and never really had to campaign when he did, but when I first ran in 2002 I had Pete with me on the Lincoln Day circuit and throughout the campaign. Pete was a Vandal boxer and we delivered the one-two punch a few times on my worthy opponent. The campaign had many humorous moments. One time in Kootenai County as we were driving aimlessly at night Pete stated, “We don’t know where we’re going but we’re making good time.” After Pete retired he was very much aware of current events and I would occasionally get a call when he wanted to express his opinion on something or maybe suggest some action to be taken. I will always consider him as my most valued mentor.
Pete was 95 years old and led a wonderful life. Although this is a sad time because he is gone, we need to be happy and celebrate his life. A quote about death that I believe is accurate “Death is not extinguishing the light, it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.”
I have it on good authority that St. Peter, as the gatekeeper of the pearly gates only said three words to Pete as he opened the gates of heaven: “Kaixo Gora Euzkadi.” So Pete went right in. Hello and up with the Basque Country.
“A day in Pete’s heaven” is a crisp autumn morning in Carey and he and Joe are flying together to inspect some bands of sheep who had a run in with some coyotes. In Pete’s heaven, you still cannot use Compound 1080, but you don’t need to. In Pete’s heaven sheep eat coyotes. Rest assured that in Pete’s heaven, the Vandals will beat Alabama for the national title, grazing fees are 10 cents an AUM and politicians achieve a bi-partisan consensus for the good of the country.
What is Pete’s legacy? Was he a success? Emerson describes success by describing Pete.
To laugh often and much;
To earn the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
Pete Cenarrusa was the most successful man I’ve ever known.
Pete was an institution in the Secretary of State’s office and oftentimes at events I am called “Pete” or “Cenarrusa.” One time a friend of mine, knowing the egos of politicians, asked if that bothered me. I said, “absolutely not.” To be referred to as Pete Cenarrusa is the highest compliment.
Adios my friend.
Idaho Public Television “Dialogue” Interview with Pete Cenarrusa, January 14, 2010
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University, the Center for Idaho History and Politics, or the School of Public Service.