Former governor William Avery dies

11/06/2009 12:00 AM

11/06/2009 12:07 AM

TOPEKA — William Avery, a one-term Republican governor in the 1960s and former U.S. House member, has died, the governor's office said Thursday. He was 98.

Gov. Mark Parkinson's office said Mr. Avery died Wednesday and ordered flags across the state lowered until Nov. 14.

"Governor Avery led our state during a time of tragic loss and national attention. Kansas honors his long life and service to our state. Our thoughts and prayers are with his children and family," Parkinson said in a statement.

Born Aug. 11, 1911, he grew up on the family farm in Wakefield. After graduating from the University of Kansas he returned there to farm and raise livestock.

Mr. Avery entered politics as a local school board member after a stint as a pilot in World War II. He then served in the Kansas House from 1951 to 1955. After that, Mr. Avery began a decade-long career as a congressman from the 2nd District before running for governor.

Mr. Avery served his one term from 1965 to 1966, when a governor's term was two years. He was defeated for re-election by Democrat Robert Docking, receiving 44 percent of the vote.

His most notable achievement as the state's 37th governor was recommending the establishment of a state income tax withholding system in 1965. It was part of a package of income and sales tax increases to improve public schools.

But he also signed legislation legalizing studded snow tires and banning trading stamps, which were popular in the 1960s. He also established the first private club law at a time when liquor by the drink in public establishments was banned.

Mr. Avery once said the number of state taxpayers after the withholding law took effect indicated 10 percent of Kansans hadn't been paying their state income tax.

"Quite obviously, I didn't endear myself to those people who weren't paying their taxes," he said.

Docking campaigned against some of the tax proposals, saying they were excessive and unfair to the poor. Mr. Avery said statewide unification of school districts also may have cost him votes for a second term.

Not everything Mr. Avery did was unpopular. He denied a reprieve request from Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, who were hanged at Lansing State Prison on April 14, 1965, for the 1959 slayings of the Clutter family in Holcomb. The murders were immortalized by Truman Capote in the book "In Cold Blood."

Another controversy was a bill directing the state Board of Health to give out birth control information along with contraceptives to married couples. Mr. Avery said he was pressured to veto the measure but let it become law without his signature.

He was governor when the House changed its system of representation to make it conform to the U.S. Supreme Court's one-man, one-vote mandate for equal representation. The old system in place since 1873 gave each county one representative and distributed the remaining 20 among the most populous counties, leaving rural counties over-represented.

After being turned out of office, Mr. Avery moved to Wichita, where he became an oil company executive. In 1968, he made a final bid for public office when he lost the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate to Bob Dole.

In 1977, he returned to Wakefield to resume a role with the Farmers and Merchants Bank. In 2000, the post office in his hometown was renamed in his honor.

Services for Mr. Avery haven't been announced by his family.


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