Tillie Bishop was quiet, effective and respected in the state Legislature
Mesa County residents are fortunate that Tilman (Tillie) Bishop isn’t a quitter. Otherwise they would have been deprived of his years of exemplary public service in the Colorado House and Senate, as a Mesa County commissioner and as a University of Colorad regent.
Tillie’s first foray into state politics wasn’t all that successful, and it left him questioning himself whether he wanted to try again.
In 1968, some Republican leaders convinced Tillie that he should seek the party’s nomination for the Colorado House. But an opponent turned up at the county assembly, and Tillie never got beyond that preliminary stage The opponent, Grand Junction restauranteur Marion Magruder, ran in the November general election, lost to the Democratic nominee, and faded into political obscurity.
In 1970, the Republicans approached Tillie to try again. Tillie was ambivalent about it and a bit gun shy.
I like to think that, in a small way, I helped him to reassess and seek the Republican nomination. We were visiting in his Mesa College office when I asked him about the possibility of a run. His wife, Pat, wasn’t wild about his candidacy, he told me, but she said she would be behind whatever decision he made.
Then he asked me what I thought about the idea. It’s possible I encouraged him as much as I did because I needed a political story. But I also thought that Tillie would make a good candidate and a good state representative.
I know that he talked to quite a few other people before he made the decision to run — a decision that propelled him into 28 years of legislative service, during which he never had an opponent who posed a serious threat.
As a freshman representative in the 1971 Colorado House, Tillie was quietly effective and almost immediately gained the respect of fellow legislators and the press. As a legislator Tillie didn’t strive to be a colorful character. He wasn’t loud and aggressive as some legislators were, and he dressed more like a banker than anything else. True, he wore cowboy boots, as did most of the rural legislators and some transplanted Midwesterners, like former Gov. Dick Lamm. He did it, he said, not to show off his Western ancestry, but because the boots were extremely comfortable. And he once owned, wore and laughed about a pair of shoes he referred to as “winkle-pickers,” — the pointed-toe shoe which came to America from 1960s British rock and roll fans.
Tillie isn’t perfect. He sometimes missed appointments, like the time I was spending a few days in Denver and he invited me to go to one of the lobbyists’ dinners. I waited in vain for at least an hour in the hotel lobby before deciding he wasn’t coming. First, I was going to say something to him the next morning, then decided to wait it out and see what happened. Two or three days later when I saw him in the Capitol hallway. he looked at me and said something like: “I was supposed to pick you up for dinner the other night, wasn’t I?”
But I could forgive him because of the many nice things he did for me.
One came in the spring of 1974, when I was living in Denver full-time and covering the Legislature, I got a call from The Daily Sentinel to come home immediately because of a staffing emergency. I told Tillie that I had to leave the next day. But I had no car, and I had nearly four months of personal possessions in my apartment. Tillie took over.. He arrived at my apartment carrying five or six big cardboard boxes later that day. He offered to help me pack, but I told him I could handle it. He suggested I send the boxes home by bus, and he loaned me his car the next morning to take the boxes to the bus station in downtown Denver. When I boarded the plane to head home later that day, Tillie drove me to the airport.
When Tillie was running for the Legislature in 1970, I answered a knock on my door one October night to discover that he was campaigning house by house in his eastern Mesa County district. To my knowledge, it was the first time such a personal campaign had been run by a Grand Junction legislative candidate, although several other candidates conducted the same type campaign later.
Each time he ran, Tillie was challenged to defend the time he spent away from his job as Mesa College director of student services. His answer, which apparently satisfied everybody, was that his heaviest work was in the summer and fall when the Legislature is not in session. To catch up on what he had missed during the week, he usually worked at the college on Saturdays and quite often on Sundays as well. Charges by detractors that he used his legislative powers to establish more programs for Mesa College usually fell flat, because most Mesa County voters were anxious to see the college expand.
Now, as he is battling cancer, Tillie can look back on a political career that was a success in every way and which gained him the respect of his fellow legislators and constituents. While the press poked fun at many of the senators and representatives, I can’t recall that my fellow reporters referred to Tillie in any but the most complimentary terms.
That’s a pretty good legacy for any politician.
Mary Louise Giblin Henderson is a former political reporter for The Daily Sentinel. She now lives in California.