Long-time ag leader passes awayWritten by Jennifer Womack
Long-time Wyoming agriculture leader Larry Bourret, 76, passed away Sept. 22 at his home in Laramie. Bourret served for six years as Wyoming’s Commissioner of Agriculture, preceded by three years as Assistant Commissioner. He also served as Executive Vice President of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation (WyFB) from 1983 to 2001 after two years as Director of State Government Issues.
“Larry J. Bourret was a dedicated, tireless, well-versed spokesman for Wyoming Farm Bureau and Wyoming agriculture in general for many years,” says former WyFB President Karen Henry of southwest Wyoming. “He was patriotic and very proud of his service in the U.S. Navy. Larry was tenacious and an effective lobbyist for agriculture during the Wyoming legislative sessions, earning a great deal of respect from the legislators over the years. Larry had many friends across Wyoming and the U.S.”
Current WyFB Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton recalls Bourret’s “unceasing defense of agriculture.” He says Bourret possessed an analytical mind and a strategic approach and that he was also looking four or five steps beyond a decision to its effects.
“Larry was never intimidated by the size of his opponent, whether it was the federal government or well funded anti-ag groups,” says Hamilton. “He believed very strongly that agricultural producers in Wyoming needed to be sustained because of what they did for the state and the nation.”
“One of Larry Bourret’s great strengths was his ability to lobby the legislature with his low key style,” says Casper rancher Doug Cooper. “He always asked the right questions about a bill when he testified rather than demand that legislators take a particular position. Usually when a legislator took the time to answer one of Larry’s questions, they would find themselves agreeing with Larry’s position.”
Henry recalls that Larry, along with Marvin Applequist, was instrumental in establishing the present day formula for figuring agricultural taxes. “He was really concerned about Wyoming’s agricultural taxes and the amount people paid,” says Henry. He also organized a study on the ag community’s tax contributions to the state, which was peer reviewed and published.
“He did his homework very well,” says Senate Ag Committee Chairman Gerald Geis of Worland. “You always could go to him and he was always willing to work with you. He was conservative but a fair man.” Laughing Geis adds, “You always knew where Larry stood.”
“I remember during World War II when there was a sugar ration. Sugar never tasted so good. You don’t realize until you don’t have it,” said Bourret during the 2001 interview with the Roundup. “I hope that this country is never in that position again when we have to depend on other nations for our food.”
“I remember when the Endangered Species Act was re-written in 1973, hardly anyone attended the hearings,” said Bourret in 2002. “The intent now isn’t the same. The question is can you continue to produce. The environmental community needs to step back and ask themselves if they are really helping this country.” During his tenure with WyFB, Bourret was part of ESA discussions surrounding wolves, prairie dogs, sage grouse and more. He worked tirelessly on behalf of federal grazing permit holders.
“Larry was definitely not a single issue person,” says Henry. She says any issue important to a WyFB member quickly became important to Larry. “If you were a member of WyFB, Larry worked for you.”
“I traveled thousands of miles with Larry going to meetings and he was always willing to share his encyclopedic knowledge of Wyoming’s people and politics and to challenge you to think hard about the policies agriculture should take,” says Cooper. “Larry Bourret did not always take the popular positions but he was always a gentleman. He served Wyoming agriculture because he truly loved our way of life. I truly believe Larry Bourett did as much for Wyoming agriculture as any man that ever lived.”
Hamilton says one of Bourret’s biggest contributions to agriculture in Wyoming was his character. “He did everything out of his sense of what was right and would spend endless hours fighting actions he felt were wrong,” he recalls. “He was ever wary of government intervention in agriculture in any fashion and he was the first one I heard mention the saying, ‘He who takes the king’s gold does the king’s bidding.’ I don’t know where that saying came from, but I’ve used it a lot.”
“Like any deal,” said Bourret, “you’re not going to win them all. You’d be fortunate to win over half. But you’ve got to take a stand and not let them get their way. If you don’t put up a fight, you’re going to loose every dang one of them.”
Bourret enjoyed his retirement years with his wife Bobbie, their four children, nine grandchildren and great-grandchildren.