Jeremiah W. “Jerry” Nixon, father of Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and a vigorous promoter of his son and his son's political career, died overnight at home in the Central West End, a neighbor and friend said. He was 90 years old.
Mr. Nixon, a prosperous lawyer and real-estate developer, was a native of East St. Louis, and lived for many years in De Soto . At one time he was active behind the scenes in Jefferson County politics. In later years, however, he lived in St. Louis. He once told a friend, "The only real talent I ever had was the ability to make money."
In a statement from the governor, he said, “Throughout his life, my father was driven by a commitment to leave his community better than he found it, and that’s exactly what he did. A larger-than-life figure who cherished his family, served his country, and loved the outdoors, he taught me and my sisters about the value of public service and the dignity of a hard day’s work.
"As a military veteran, prosecuting attorney, mayor and judge, my dad had an accomplished career in public service, which included helping to establish Jefferson Memorial Hospital, Jefferson College, Mastodon State Historic Site, and the very first water district in Missouri. But I will remember him most for his quick wit and sense of adventure -- and the joy he took in casting a line into a cold Ozarks stream. I will miss him deeply and be forever grateful for the example he set.”
In 1986, Mr. Nixon began to direct personal attention toward state politics and to helping his son, Jay, in his efforts to win a state Senate seat representing Jefferson County.
E. Terrence Jones, a savvy political scientist and longtime professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where he enjoys the title of Founders Professor, recalled being summoned by Mr. Nixon to Jefferson County to talk about the Senate race.
Mr. Nixon told Jones he'd heard that Jones was an expert on politics, and asked if he’d work to plan and help manage young Jay Nixon’s campaign for the Missouri Senate.
Jones was agreeable; eventually he became a member of Jay Nixon’s kitchen cabinet. The elder Mr. Nixon was smart to call in Jones for his considerable expertise: the Senate race was tough. The opposing candidate was considered a shoo-in. He was Walter “Buck” Buerger.
Buerger was a former Triple-A baseball player for affiliate teams of the New York Yankees and Milwaukee Braves. By the time he retired from law enforcement, he’d been Jefferson County sheriff for 28 years. He had instant name recognition with voters.
On the other side, Jay Nixon was shaking hands and kissing babies, while burdened with a tainted surname he couldn’t shake. The name “Nixon” remained, in the 1980s, unpopular many places including Jefferson County, a Democratic Party stronghold in those days.
Nevertheless the youngster beat the sheriff and headed for Jefferson City as senator from Jefferson County. He served for three terms. In 1992 he was elected Missouri attorney general and served in that position until early 2009. In 2008, he beat U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof in the general election and became governor.
Jeremiah Nixon had had a political career of sorts, too. Mr. Nixon served for a year as mayor of De Soto (1959-1960) and was also a municipal judge in De Soto, which is the Jefferson County county seat. But Jones said Mr. Nixon was a shrewd, nuanced and balanced observer of politics.
Jones said Mr. Nixon and his wife, Katy, enjoyed traveling and sailing.
Mr. Nixon was married three times, first to Betty Lea Willson, the mother of his children, from whom he was divorced; second to Delores A. Kratky, who died in 1978. Besides his wife Katy, he is survived by his son, Gov. Jeremiah W. Nixon; two daughters, Melinda Nixon Moynihan and Penelope Nixon; and five grandchildren, according to an autobiography he published.
A funeral service will be at Dietrich-Mothershead Funeral Home in De Soto for family and friends.