Finally getting around to reading Dan Rylance’s Quentin Burdick: The Gentle Warrior this weekend. Dan, who worked at the Grand Forks Herald and UND’s Chester Fritz Library before leaving the state some years ago, has been researching Burdick’s life for many, many years. It shows in the book.
One of my favorite parts of it is a section of personal stories about Burdick written by people who knew him. Some of their stories are about the senator’s renown "thriftiness." A product of the Great Depression, he was well beyond "tight."
Although I interviewed Senator Burdick many times for television, I don’t have any stories about him nearly as good as college pal Sara Garland’s from the book. She worked for him in his Washington office. Her boss hinted one day that he needed a place to change the oil in his car. Sara had little choice but to suggest the alley behind her house at the time a few blocks from Capitol Hill, which is where they went. The Senator whipped out a case of Kmart oil and a pair coveralls, which he put on over his suit, and went to work.
Dewey Heggen, a former television news director in Fargo and Bismarck, told me once he always suspected Burdick wore his rumpled suits and soup-stained ties only for a show of humility while in North Dakota. That is until he interviewed him once in his Washington office where his wardrobe was the virtually same.
Today I can hardly think about Quentin Burdick without thinking about Earl Strinden. I get a huge kick out of Earl now, but for years he went out of his way to cultivate a hard-nosed image of himself in the state legislature.
Strinden ran unsuccessfully against Burdick in his final Senate campaign. As I recall, something like 48 hours before the election, Strinden called a news conference in Grand Forks. The sole purpose of it was to bitch out the media for underreporting the severity of Burdick’s then illness. North Dakotans knew he was sick. They voted for him anyway. North Dakotans liked Quentin Burdick better than Earl Strinden.