It isn’t often, in researching family members’ life stories, that we run across quotes from their governor in honor of our ancestors. Well, perhaps you do; I haven’t—up until this point. Upon our Kelly descendant Harry A. Sullivan’s passing in 1950, though, two newspaper articles came complete with such a statement.
Harry Sullivan, born and raised in Denver, Colorado, had returned from World War I, determined to be of assistance to his fellow soldiers. As we’ve already seen, he was quite successful in seeing these men placed in suitable jobs upon their return home. From that springboard, he went on to be an organizer for the Colorado state arm of the American Legion—the very work in which he was engaged at the time of his passing on September 9, 1950.
How deeply he had committed himself to this organization begins to reveal itself with the quotes included in the news articles the day after his death, both in the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News on Sunday, September 10, 1950.
The lead statement in the Post covered the basics of his passing:
Harry A. Sullivan, 55, chairman of the state board of veterans affairs and an organizer of the American Legion in Colorado, died early Saturday after becoming ill a few hours before at a Legion meeting.
Their rival, the Rocky Mountain News, explained in further detail:
Mr. Sullivan was stricken while he attended a board of directors meeting of the Leyden-Chiles-Wickersham Post of the American Legion, which he helped found and of which he was past commander. He died an hour after his seizure in Mercy Hospital.
In explaining Harry’s relationship with both the state and national organization of the American Legion, the Rocky Mountain News noted,
In his associations with the American Legion, Mr. Sullivan held many high national posts including the office of national executive committeeman.
The Post clarified that Harry was “Colorado’s first national executive committeeman for the American Legion” and that his role was actually “leading in its organization in this state.”
It was interesting that the Rocky Mountain News chose to insert some details about Harry’s past political involvement. Of course, having to influence law makers as he did in his early years of working with veterans—as we saw when he helped draft legislation for some of the programs that were so sorely needed—he couldn’t help but take on a political role. For one brief instance, if you’ll remember, he did try to secure an elected position in local government—that of city auditor. The News recalled that in their 1950 article:
In 1921 he was a candidate for city auditor but was unsuccessful. This venture into politics was his only move for selective office. However, he remained active in city and state Republican politics.
Interestingly, given Harry’s partisan choice, the man who held the position of governor at the time of Harry’s death—and who issued an appropriately gracious statement regarding his passing—would be from the opposing party. Actually, Walter Walford Johnson, governor of Colorado at the time of Harry’s death, had only served in that capacity since the preceding April. He had originally been elected as Lieutenant Governor, but at the point in his term at which then-governor William Lee Knous happened to be appointed federal district judge in Denver, Lieutenant Governor Walter Johnson assumed the position of governor in his place. While Mr. Johnson did, later in 1950, run for a full term as governor, he was defeated by a Republican, and thus only served a nine month term.
Whether it was for political maneuvering that Walter Johnson sought to have his statement on Harry Sullivan’s death featured in the two Denver newspapers that September, I can’t say—but, politics being politics, it’s telling that I’d entertain such doubts. Regardless of the hidden agenda that might be lurking behind the gracious words—carried in full by the Denver Post—they did signify respect for the dedication of one man intent on seeking the well-being of his fellows.
“I know the people of Colorado will be as deeply shocked as I am to learn of the passing last night of Harry A. Sullivan, chairman of the state board of veterans affairs of Colorado,” Governor Johnson said in a statement.“He devoted his life to every charitable cause and for the interests of veterans, their widows and orphans. Colorado has lost a great citizen and I have therefore ordered the flags of our country and state flown at half-mast.”