- Author: Craig Outhier
- Category: History
- Issue: Dec 2011
Arizona’s First Governor
George W.P. Hunt (1859-1934) nicknamed himself the “Old Walrus” during his seven-term reign as Arizona’s first governor, but don’t be suckered by the self-deprecation – the one-time teen drifter was a skilled and nimble political operator. A colleague once described the bald, big-bellied populist as a “behind-the-scenes manipulator who presided in the manner of a stoic, benign Buddha, if one could picture Buddha with a splendid handlebar mustache.”
The comparison was apt. Like Buddhist patriarch Siddartha Gautama, Hunt fled a privileged upbringing (his hometown of Huntsville, Missouri was named after his paternal grandfather) to wander the hinterlands as a young man in search of transformation. He rode donkeys through Colorado, rafted down the Rio Grande, and ultimately settled in the hardscrabble mining town of Globe, where he launched a lucrative career as a grocer before branching into public service.
After narrowly defeating Republican candidate Edmund Wells in the state’s first gubernatorial election, Hunt embarked on an odyssey of progressive, pro-labor policy-making that would likely earn him a “lefty” label in today’s right-leaning Arizona.
Still, the Old Walrus left an important legacy. He’s like our eternal Buddha, preaching inclusiveness and idealism from his pyramid-shaped tomb in Papago Park. Kookookachoo.
When Hunt first took office in 1912, he moved to restrict three institutions he regarded as harmful to the well-being of the 48th state: child labor, lobbying and usury.
What he might say today about Arizona: “I personally harbor the most disagreeable estimate of your so-called ‘auto title loan’ usurers, with their garish electric glow lamps, which remind me of nothing if not the houses of ill-repute that flourished on the dusty roads outside my adoptive home of Globe, Arizona, and the acts of tawdry gratification within.”
A true Renaissance man, Hunt collected Southwestern Indian art and personally cultivated rare wild shrubs and trees.
What he might say today about his botanical efforts: “I won’t specify the exact provenance of my garden, but one of the leafy shrubs in question has proven most efficacious in enhancing my appetite and relieving the ache in my extremities. I also enjoy listening to jazz music on my phonograph while in its throes.”
In 1919, at the conclusion of his third term, Hunt considered running for fellow Democrat Mark Smith’s U.S. Senate seat. To preempt Hunt’s senatorial ambitions, Smith lobbied President Woodrow Wilson to award the ex-governor a faraway diplomatic post. According to legend, Wilson pointed to Siam – now Thailand – on a globe and asked, “Is this far enough?” Hunt served as the U.S. Ambassador to Siam for 17 months, ending in 1921.
What he might say today about Thailand: “A remarkable and robust people, the Thais. Alone among the races of Southeast Asia, they have never been colonized or subjugated. And when I find myself pining for their singular cuisine, I simply alight on Malee’s in Scottsdale. Delicious!”
THE MASONIC MAN
Hunt returned from Asia to serve four more terms as Arizona governor. He passed away from heart failure on Christmas Eve, 1934, less than two years after finishing his final term. A lifelong Freemason, Hunt was interred in a white pyramid tomb he and wife Helen built in Papago Park.
What he might say today about his pyramid tomb: “A conspicuous affectation, I admit. But what can I say? That’s how we Masons roll.”