Former Gov. Warren Hearnes dies at 86

Warren Hearnes, the first governor in Missouri history to serve two terms, died at about 11 p.m. Sunday at his home in the Bootheel, his family said today.

Hearnes was 86. He served as governor from 1965 to 1973.

Gov. Jay Nixon, a fellow Democrat, ordered flags at all Missouri facilities to be flown at half-mast until the date of interment and released this statement:

"Early this morning, we received the sad news about the passing of one of Missouri’s true 20th Century statesmen, former Governor Warren E. Hearnes.

"Gov. Hearnes was a groundbreaking man of Missouri in many ways, beyond being the first Missouri Governor to serve two successive terms.

"When he saw how Missourians with mental illness were warehoused in state hospitals, he created the system of regional mental health centers to provide effective treatment.

"When he saw how Missouri’s public schools were not keeping up with other states, he greatly increased state aid for education to give our students and teachers the resources they needed.

"And when he saw racial injustice, he signed Missouri’s first civil rights act, a public accommodations bill sponsored in the House by a young state representative named Mel Carnahan.

"Warren Hearnes was a man who got things done – as Majority Floor Leader, as Secretary of State, and as Governor – and Missouri is a better place because he answered the call to a life of public service.

"Georganne and I are keeping the Hearnes family, especially his wife, former First Lady Betty Hearnes, in our thoughts and prayers. Over the next few days, my staff and I will be working with the Hearnes family to ensure Gov. Hearnes is given appropriate honors by the State of Missouri."

Former Gov. Matt Blunt chipped in with this remembrance:

"Governor Hearnes was a delightful man and I enjoyed the opportunities I had to spend time with him.

"I last saw him at a reception we hosted at the Mansion for he and some of his former staff members. He was in a weakened state, but nothing could hide his strong spirit. He was fun to be around and he enjoyed reminding me of the respectful rivalry that exists between our alma maters.

"Missouri has lost a true public servant. Melanie and I will keep Betty and her family in our thoughts and prayers."

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder's thoughts:

"I deeply saddened today by the passing of Gov. Hearnes.

"Gov. Hearnes' legacy of public service will forever be an inspiration to us all.

"As a former state representative, secretary of state and chief executive, Gov. Hearnes dedicated much of his life in service to the citizens of the great State of Missouri. He also served his nation proudly as a graduate of West Point and in the United States Army.

"As a fellow Southeast Missourian, I can truly say how proud we were to call Gov. Hearnes one of us.

"I send my deepest sympathies to Betty, their children and the entire Hearnes family. Today, Missouri owes a debt of gratitude to the Hearnes family for their commitment to our state."

Hearnes' family also released a statement:

Today we said good-bye to our beloved husband, father, and grandfather Warren Eastman Hearnes. He left us peacefully and without pain and is now in God's care.

We take consolation in the fact that we were with him until the end, that he was blessed with such a long, rich life, and that he was able to accomplish so much during his years of public service for all Missourians.

Missouri schoolchildren receive the education they deserve, those with mental illness receive the treatment they need, our citizens experience the benefits of tourism and the arts that they want, senior citizens and those with disabilities receive the care they must have, and all of us reap the rewards of the healthy state business climate we enjoy because of the achievements of Warren Hearnes as Governor.

His legacy will reach beyond our generation, continuing to make life better for the citizens of the state he served so faithfully and so well.

Just as has always been the case in our lives, whether in happy times or sad ones, we will face this great loss as a family, helping each other. However, words cannot express how much we appreciate the huge outpouring of support that we are experiencing from friends, public figures, and even complete strangers who never met Warren but admired him for what he did.

It has been a rare gift for us to love this soft spoken but strong willed "Gentleman from Mississippi" to learn from his wisdom, to laugh at his quick wit, and take pleasure in his endless love and support. We will miss him every day. But at those moments, we will find comfort in remembering the countless great times we shared and looking ahead at the bright future he helped shape for this state that he loved.