As Boise mayor, Jay Amyx oversaw pivotal era

Amyx served from 1966 to ’74, when the city got a four-year college and the Greenbelt was born. JAY AMYX, 1923 - 2014

sberg@idahostatesman.comJanuary 29, 2014 

Jay Amyx in 1978

Jay Amyx, pictured here during his run for governor in 1978, was known for his big personality, building homes and restoring antique cars.

STATESMAN FILE PHOTO

Born to a farming family in Texas during the Great Depression, Jay Amyx was no stranger to hard, physical labor and seeing little money in return. He actually picked cotton.

He hitchhiked to Boise in 1942. Four years later, he started a successful construction company here. Twenty years later, still in his early 40s, he was mayor of Idaho’s biggest city.

Amyx died Friday at the age of 90.

“He always said, in his later years in life, ‘I’ve done far more in life than any cotton picker from Texas should have accomplished,’ ” said Don Amyx, one of his sons.

During Jay Amyx’s tenure, Boise underwent some of the most important changes in its history.

The first phase of the Greenbelt was established, turning a contaminated, debris-ridden riparian area into a place people could enjoy.

Boise Junior College became a four-year school and, later, Boise State University.

Hewlett-Packard opened a plant in the city.

It’s difficult to know exactly how strong a role Amyx played in each of those developments. Idaho historian Arthur Hart said City Councilwoman Marge Ewing was probably more forceful in her Greenbelt advocacy, but it appears Amyx at least endorsed the idea.

Statesman archives indicate that Amyx, a Republican, was a strong proponent of luring HP to Boise. His role in the growth of Boise State University is less clear.

Perhaps the most important part of Amyx’s career as mayor, however, was what didn’t happen. In 1973, just weeks before leaving office, Amyx told Statesman reporter Tim Woodward that he wished the city had made more progress replacing old buildings Downtown with a shopping mall.

Mention a Downtown mall today and you’ll see Boise’s leaders, planners, businesspeople and general public shudder. But for 20 years surrounding Amyx’s tenure, Woodward said, standard doctrine held that a mall was the best option for reinvigorating the city’s core.

It wasn’t until Dirk Kempthorne was elected mayor in the 1980s that the Downtown mall concept went away for good.

Like any political figure, Amyx saw plenty of controversy. In 1973, Woodward reported that the mayor was living in a duplex outside city limits. Amyx disputed that report. Some people, including Ewing and at least one fellow City Council member, took issue with the mayor’s taxpayer-financed trip to Puerto Rico just before he left office.

No one ever accused him of being lazy. He said he never took a vacation as long as he was mayor.

“During my life, I watched him more on TV than I did in person,” Don Amyx said. “He’d get up and go to work before I got up and he’d usually come home after I went to bed.”

Jay Amyx didn’t run for a third term in 1973, but he wasn’t out of politics long. He fixed his sights on the Idaho governor’s chair in 1978, coming in last place out of six candidates in the Republican primary.

Don Amyx remembered his father as a kind, helpful man who was dedicated to the Southern Baptist Church.

“He never passed a car on the side of the road that he didn’t stop and try to help,” Don Amyx said. “Never passed up a hitchhiker. He had a heart for helping everybody.”

Feleen Anderson-Amyx, who was married to Jay Amyx’s middle son, said Jay cast a big shadow.

“It used to be if you said the name Amyx, everybody knew who you were,” Anderson-Amyx said.

But Jay Amyx’s devotion to family is what sticks with her, especially the fact that he stayed married almost 70 years. Years ago, Anderson-Amyx was going through a difficult personal time, and her father-in-law had a talk with her.

“He said, ‘Never give up on marriage, love and life,’ ” Anderson-Amyx said. “And that’s just kind of how he lived his life.”

Sven Berg: 377-6275

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