I first met “Walkin’” Joe Teasdale at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia. I was a young mother of three sons and we were on the carnival grounds enjoying the rides when a man who seemed larger than life stepped in front of me and said “I’m Joe Teasdale and I’m running for governor.”
Like many Missourians, I was impressed with the sincerity and integrity of this man. When he asked for my support, I made the decision to support his campaign for governor and became Joe’s coordinator in Pettis County. Joe Teasdale had many friends and supporters here. He loved Sedalia, the State Fair, and Gov. Teasdale never passed up the opportunity to eat a Goober Burger at the Wheel Inn Restaurant. We had successful fundraisers in Sedalia; one at Maxine’s Restaurant that Joe particularly remembered for the good food and the excited, enthusiastic attendance.
People liked Joe. Volunteers were helping with all the demands of a campaign. My boys learned about campaigns at a young age, handing out campaign materials at factories when people were leaving work and any other event where there were people gathered. I was appointed coordinator over 14 counties in his campaign for governor in 1976.
Joe Teasdale was elected Jackson County Prosecutor at age 30, the youngest person ever elected to that position. In his first statewide race for governor in 1972, he had a very appealing campaign style, reaching out to the people of this state. He narrowly lost the primary election in the campaign for governor in 1972 to Ed Dowd. That first statewide campaign gave him name recognition, and a large number of dedicated supporters. As he walked across Missouri, Joe Teasdale laid the groundwork for his successful gubernatorial race in 1976. Walkin’ Joe had walked a thousand miles when he defeated popular Missouri Gov. Christopher ‘Kit’ Bond.
On primary election night in Kansas City in 1976, several supporters from Sedalia were on the elevator with a man who had two large, garbage-like bags of popcorn he was bringing to the watch party. That was how I met Joe’s father, William Teasdale, a prominent attorney in Kansas City. His sister, Maureen Galey, was a major organizer of his statewide campaign, and often worked out of her garage handing out signs. Those of us who worked for Joe wore a pin of a shoe with a hole in the sole, signifying the miles walked on this journey. On election night, Joe liked to tell how he was watching the returns and heard Dan Rather say, “Walter, the story in the Midwest is not Jimmy Carter, it’s Walkin’ Joe Teasdale!”
While in the Office of Governor, Joe kept his campaign promise of reviewing rates set by the utility companies, appointing to the Public Service Commission a “watchdog” for rate increases. He said “I declared war on them. I was anti-establishment, and I wasn’t in anyone’s pocket.”
Teasdale considered his greatest accomplishments to be his focus on the needs of seniors and mental health issues. During his administration, the State established the Division of Aging and numerous health laws were re-written and funding for the Department of Mental Health was increased.
When Joe Teasdale was elected governor, I was on an inaugural committee that oversaw the reception at the Governor’s Mansion and we were invited to the Governor’s Mansion every Christmas while he was in office. Gov. Teasdale and I were personal friends. On many occasions I was invited to the governor’s office with department heads to review various issues.
On Thursday, May 8, 2014, the man many of us in Pettis County met personally as he stood in front of the gates as people lined up for the Grandstand Performances each night at the Missouri State Fair, and introduced himself with a friendly, firm handshake, died from complications of pneumonia in Kansas City. He was 78, lived in Kansas City and practiced law since leaving the governor’s office in 1980.
My sister, Connie McLaughlin, and I attended the funeral mass at St. Thomas More Catholic Church. A statement about Gov. Teasdale’s appreciation of simplicity was emanated when they brought him in in a pine coffin that had been made at his request by an Order of Catholic Priests in Kansas City. Our love and prayers are with Theresa and their three sons, William, John and Kevin. Our thanks to Gov. Joseph Patrick Teasdale for his morals and honesty and staying true to his commitment to the State of Missouri. Rest in peace my friend.