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Governor John Vanderhoof: A Colorado Profile in Courage

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Former Colorado Gov. John Vanderhoof (credit: colorado.gov.)

Former Colorado Gov. John Vanderhoof (credit: colorado.gov.)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

Last week, Colorado lost a true hero. His death didn’t make major headlines even though he led the state of Colorado for two years as Governor and many more years as a state lawmaker and a Speaker of the House.

John Vanderhoof, a man who was a decorated World War II fighter pilot, honored Colorado official and our state’s Governor from 1973 to 1975 passed away at the age of 91 last Thursday.

Even though I am a Colorado native and fairly proud of my knowledge of our state’s history, I was unfamiliar with just how much Mr. Vanderhoof did for our fine state.

John Vanderhoof served as Gov. John Love’s Lieutenant Governor. In 1973, Gov. Love resigned his seat to serve in President Richard Nixon’s administration. When John Vanderhoof became Governor of Colorado, he inherited a state facing many issues.

When the results of the Yom Kippur war in the Middle East led to an oil embargo in the United States, Colorado faced incredible energy challenges. Gas prices tripled, fuel shortages were common and Colorado faced an unprecedented crisis.

In facing the crisis, Gov. John Vanderhoof led by example. He issued executive orders that all Colorado employees begin to carpool, all state vehicles to be driven under 50 mph and began to look at alternative energies.

While Gov. Bill Ritter is given a great deal of credit for his work in green energy, the trail he walked was initially blazed by John Vanderhoof.

Vanderhoof also had to lead this state during a time when the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that Denver Public Schools begin busing students in order to reverse discriminatory policies.

The city of Denver was also in the throes of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement. In 1973, Denver was reacting to a March 17th bombing near the Crusade for Justice headquarters and an altercation that led to the death of an activist and injuries to many, including some 12 Denver Police officers.

To put it mildly, Denver and Colorado were facing several issues that taken separately would have crippled many leaders. But Governor John Vanderhoof rose above it all and is remembered as a leader that both sides of the political aisle respected.

It’s that last part that I think is taken for granted far too much right now. While Vanderhoof was a loyal member of the Republican Party, he was remembered by his fellow lawmakers as one of the most well-respected Speakers of the House in Colorado’s history. He was a man known for his ability to work with all of his colleagues, regardless of political affiliation.

John Vanderhoof may not have served as Colorado’s Governor for very long. But his legacy will be one of courage. Courage to have fought with bravery in World War II, courage to embrace leadership by acknowledging the contributions of both parties and finally, the courage to lead a state through difficult times, leading by example.

Future leaders of Colorado would be wise to follow the example that John Vanderhoof left behind. All of Colorado would be better off for it.

About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here usually every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti is also the host and producer of the Emmy award winning Colorado Inside Out on Colorado Public Television.

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