Bethine Church, Sen. Frank Church's political partner, dies at 90

December 21, 2013 

Bethine Church, the widow of four-term Idaho Sen. Frank Church and the grand dame of Idaho Democrats, died Saturday, her son said.

In a Facebook post, Chase Church said Bethine Church died "from old age," and had spent her past two weeks at home on hospice care. She was 90.

Bethine Church was the daughter of Chase Clark, an Idaho governor in the 1940s. She grew up in Mackay and Idaho Falls. Frank Church grew up in Boise. They married in 1947.

Sen. Church was the most influential Idaho politician ever. Bethine was his partner in his public career. He served 24 years in the U.S. Senate, the lone Idaho Democrat to win more than one term. He chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In 1976, he was a serious candidate for president, looking briefly like the only man able to deny Jimmy Carter the Democratic nomination. He helped pass the Wilderness Act in 1964. He was an early critic of the Vietnam War, and investigated CIA and FBI abuses, forcing reforms that some now question in the post-9/11 era.

Sen. Church died in 1984. Bethine contemplated suicide while watching him die of cancer, she told the Statesman in 2006, but Frank Church told her she had responsibilities.

She went on to found the Sawtooth Society, which led private conservation efforts in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area; she supported expanding wilderness into the Boulder and White Cloud mountains; and she helped create the Frank Church Institute at BSU that supports a scholar and hosts a world-class annual conference.

Bethine Church had a knack for remembering names, something she learned from her dad, she told the Statesman. "Pop taught me that everybody, from the waitress to the people working in the kitchen, is as important as the people sitting on the dais."

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