BISMARCK-John Andrist, a giant in North Dakota's newspaper industry and a former state lawmaker, died early Wednesday, Jan. 17, in a Fargo hospital after suffering a "pretty significant stroke" last week, his son said. He was 86.
First elected in 1992 as a state senator from Crosby in the state's northwestern corner,
Andrist retired from the Legislature in 2014, two years after a stroke. He told Forum News Service at the time that he thought of himself as a "facilitator" who "didn't create any landmark legislation" but "helped shape an awful lot of it."
"I'd always been a community activist and I like to think a community leader, always interested in the political process, particularly the legislative process," he said in 2014.
Steve Andrist said his father was “definitely a Republican” but had an independent streak and wasn’t shy about speaking on the Senate floor about what may be considered “liberal issues” if it was something he believed in. Even as politics became more polarizarized, Andrist “always saw his fellow legislators and government people as individuals and not as instruments of a political party,” his son said.
"He made his own decisions," said Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson. "He always knew why he was supporting a piece of legislation even though it maybe didn't fit with the leadership or with others in the caucus."
Armed with a good sense of humor, Andrist was nonetheless a serious public servant who worried about how legislation would affect common people, Wardner said. And his newspaper career gave him a "great background" for his time as a legislator, he said.
Andrist began working full-time at his father's newspaper as a teenager in 1950, later rising to managing editor before purchasing it in 1961. He ran The Journal, based in Crosby, as publisher before selling it to Steve Andrist in 1991.
Steve Andrist, who has since sold the paper to a longtime editor, is now executive director of the North Dakota Newspaper Association.
John Andrist was president of the state association in 1970 and was named president of the National Newspaper Association in 1989, becoming the only North Dakotan to hold that post. He was inducted into the North Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2000, the same year he was chosen to receive the national association's award for distinguished service.
Mike Jacobs, the former publisher of the Grand Forks Herald, called Andrist "one of the finest men I've ever known" and an "extraordinarily good listener and an extraordinarily good thinker." He was "absolutely committed to Crosby" and was generous with his time and money, Jacobs said.
Andrist's obituary lists numerous philanthropic and civic activities, such as chairing a fundraising campaign to build a new hospital in Crosby and leading an effort to save and restore a downtown building on the verge of demolition.
Jacobs said his generosity was evident in other ways.
"If he thought you were wrong, he didn't give you crap about it, he gave you good advice about it," he said. "And that's the mark of a generous man, I think."
In a statement, Gov. Doug Burgum said Andrist's "work always reflected his genuine care for his home state and its people and his deep-seated belief that honest, civil discourse and fair, compassionate journalism are vital for a healthy democracy."
Andrist and his late wife, Elaine, raised five children. His funeral service will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at Fargo's First Presbyterian Church.