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William Hunt Sr.

1923 - 2016 Obituary Condolences
William Hunt Sr. Obituary
William "Bill" Edward Hunt Sr.

Helena —Former Montana Supreme Court Justice William Edward Hunt Sr. died Tuesday in Helena. He was 92. Bill Hunt was part of what Tom Brokaw called "the Greatest Generation." Hunt served his country during World War II and then returned and served the people of the state of Montana. Throughout his career, he fought for the people and was a strong defender of their rights.

Hunt was born Feb. 28, 1923, in Tacoma, Wash., the son of William C. Hunt, a dentist, and Ann Nolan Hunt, a registered nurse. He was the second eldest of eight children. After falling on hard times during the Depression, the family moved to the family farm outside Burlington, Iowa. "Even though nobody there had any more money than we did, at least we could grow our own food," Hunt recalled in an interview.

At age 16, Hunt dropped out of school and gave his birthday as Feb. 29, 1920 when he enlisted in the Iowa National Guard April 1939 with his younger brother, Bob. They joined the 113th Cavalry, a horse cavalry unit. The unit was mobilized in January 1941.

As a soldier, Hunt was a radio operator and participated in the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day and the landings in Sicily and Algeria. He was among first wave of soldiers to storm Utah Beach. Those were the defining years of his adult life, Hunt said in a newspaper interview in late 2000 as he was preparing to leave the Montana Supreme Court after 16 years. "If it taught me anything, it taught me how lucky I was," Hunt said. "The war taught me we're all the same. We all do our best, and we can't worry about our differences."

He served for 25 years in active Army, Army Reserve, and Iowa and Montana National Guards. Hunt was an enlisted man and an officer, holding the rank of captain. He served in the Army until 1945, rejoined in 1946 and stayed until 1950.

Hunt obtained his GED and was on his way to Seattle to enroll at the University of Washington. At his mother's suggestion, Hunt stopped at the University of Montana. The dean of men convinced him to attend college in Missoula, a decision Hunt said he never regretted. At UM, Hunt completed his undergraduate pre-law classes and graduated from the School of Law in 1955. While a student, Hunt worked nights for the Northern Pacific railroad as a crew caller.

On Aug. 25, 1952, Hunt married Mary V. Fassler, a registered nurse who had just graduated St. Patrick School of Nursing in Missoula. The couple later moved to Walla Walla, Wash., Havre and Chester. In Chester, Hunt practiced law, served as Liberty County attorney for nine years and was the town's mayor.

As mayor, Hunt was instrumental in forming the Montana Consumer Council in the late 1960s so local governments could oppose a Montana Power Co. rate increase request. That was before the 1972 Montana Constitution created a state consumer counsel's office to represent ratepayers in utility cases. Hunt also was a trustee of the Central Montana Legal Services, which provided legal assistance to low-income people.

In 1970, the Hunts moved to Helena when he was appointed director of Montana Legal Services. Gov. Forrest H. Anderson later appointed him as director of state Aeronautics Board. In 1975, Gov. Thomas L. Judge selected Hunt as the state's first workers' compensation judge. After his term ended in 1981, Hunt opened a private practice in Helena.

He was elected to a vacant seat on the Montana Supreme Court in 1984 and in 1992 ran unopposed for a second term. As a liberal justice on the Montana Supreme Court, Hunt was often in the minority. "I'm a liberal and you guys call me a liberal," he said in the newspaper interview in 2000. "I think a liberal is a person who has had a lot of experience and is not bound by what happens in the past, but understands the past."

In 2000, Hunt received the Montana Trial Lawyers Association's Public Service and Career Achievement awards and the Citizens award in 2007. Hunt received the 2009 Jeannette Rankin public service award from the ACLU of Montana. In 2003, he was inducted in the Officer Candidate School Hall of Honor at Fort Benning, Ga.

Bill and Mary Hunt enjoyed spending time with their grandchildren, traveling and were longtime Grizzly football season ticketholders. When his children were growing up, Bill read books to them after dinner, including "A Christmas Carol," by Charles Dickens, one stave each night, concluding on Christmas Eve.

His wife, Mary, died in 2009, and their son, Joe, died in 1998. His parents and siblings, Eileen, Bob, Don, Mary Jane, Larry and Janet, are all deceased.

Survivors include their other children: Jim Hunt (wife Barbara Howe, children Hannah and Isabelle Hunt) of Helena; Kate Hunt (husband Todd Johnson, children Arlo and Jane Johnson) of Creston; Pat Hunt (husband Chuck Johnson) of Helena, and son Bill Jr. (wife Shelly Hunt, daughter Vivienne) of Shelby.

Bill is also survived by his brother, Dick Hunt, of Arizona, sister-in-law Sue Hunt of Nevada; sister-in-law, Helen Coleman (husband Verle), of Washington state, and brother-in-law, Bill Byrne of Missoula. Numerous nephews and nieces also survive.

The family would like to thank the staff of Rocky Mountain Care Center for their loving care for Bill over the last three years.

There will be a vigil at 6:00 p.m. Tuesday, February 23rd, at the Anderson Stevenson and Wilke Funeral Home, 3750 N. Montana Ave. A Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 12:00 p.m. on Wednesday, February 24th, at the Cathedral of Saint Helena, 530 N. Ewing St. A reception will follow Mass at the Brondel Center in the lower level of the Cathedral. Burial will follow the reception at Resurrection Cemetery, 3700 N. Montana Ave. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations be made to ACLU of Montana, P.O. Box 1317, Helena, MT 59624, or Helena Food Share, P.O. Box 943, Helena, MT 59601. To offer the family a condolence or to share a memory of Bill please visit

Published in Great Falls Tribune on Feb. 21, 2016
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