JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Mike “Coach” Lair passed away Tuesday at his home in Jefferson City at the age of 71. He represented the House District 7 for four terms, from 2008 to 2017. During his time, he was Chair of the House Appropriations-Education Committee from 2011 to 2015 and was Chair of the Education Committee in 2015, but served on education committees since he arrived in the House. He was eventually replaced by current Rep. Rusty Black.
Lair was born in Omaha, Nebraska. He traveled the Midwest for his education, getting his undergraduate degree in history and his Masters in education. He then traveled to South Dakota, where he married his best friend, Jeanne Doyle. He lived in South Dakota where he worked as a teacher on the Rosebud Indian Reservation.
Lair was an active mentor during and after school hours. At Chillicothe High School, he became head coach of the football and the men’s track teams.
RIP Coach Mike Lair! You was a very inspirational teacher and friend, and I was blessed to have been one of your kids!
— Robbie Skipper (@RobbieSkipper33) September 6, 2017
He would eventually move to Chillicothe, Missouri where he would continue teaching. As a teacher, he was proud of his entertaining lecture style that educated his students and inspired them to keep learning. When he retired in 2008, he had 38 years experience as an educator.
James Harris, his son-in-law, and lobbyist at J.Harris Company, mentioned that one of Lair’s favorite activities was reading. Harris mentioned that as a reader, Lair was a scholar of history. When he last saw Lair, “He had a map. I think it was somewhere from an Ancient Greek civilization. He was retracing where they had sailed,” Harris remarked.
While Lair may have retired from teaching, he certainly did not retire from advocating for education. He was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives in 2008 and pushed for education bills. He sponsored bills like HB 1085, that sought to modify the systems of retirement for teachers and school employees. He also sponsored HB 1157, which would have allowed for more student data transparency, accessibility, and accountability. Finally, he also sponsored HB 1158, which would have prevented the State Board of Education or any other state entity from mandating curriculum, textbooks, or other materials in public schools.
During Lair’s time in the General Assembly, he also fought for a reprieve for seniors in prison, through HB 1175, HB 807, and HB 1817, which would have authorized certain inmates over the age of 60 for parole.
In the House, he was able to garner respect on both sides of Missouri Government. When legislators heard of his passing, many praised his integrity, compassion, and sense of humor.
Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard issued a statement praising Lair’s commitment to Missouri education and to the constituents of House District 7. “Like many in the Legislature, I was saddened to learn of the passing of former Rep. Mike Lair. A strong advocate for education, Mike served his constituents proudly and was known in the halls as compassionate and an all-around nice guy. I offer my condolences and my thoughts and prayers are with Mike’s family in their time of loss,” he said.
Other members of the Missouri Legislature took to Twitter to offer their condolences.
Rep. Mike Lair was a fantastic person. And he was hilarious. Please pray for his family during their time of loss.
— Scott Fitzpatrick (@FitzpatrickMO) September 6, 2017
Missouri lost a great man – Rep Mike Lair. I can still hear him holler, Hey buddy, whenever i walked by his desk pic.twitter.com/XpCSMQNEAV
— Kevin L. Austin (@KevinLAustin1) September 6, 2017
Just learned that former Rep. Mike Lair has passed. Mike was one of the most kind individuals I’ve ever met. Please keep family in prayers.
— Justin Alferman (@Justinalf) September 6, 2017
We’ve lost one of the kindest, compassionate legislators I know. RIP Mike Lair #moleg
— Kathie Conway (@KathieConway) September 6, 2017
Lair had a profound ability to connect to his students and constituents, though his soft smile, strong character and sense of humor. He will be remembered for his dedication, passion, and leadership as an educator, legislator, and a man.
Funeral arrangements have been made for Lair at the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Jefferson City. A visitation will be held at the cathedral from 4:00-7:00 p.m. on Monday, September 11 and a rosary service held before at 3:15 p.m. His funeral service will be held at 12:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 12. He is survived by his wife, a son, and a daughter.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions are suggested to the Mike Lair Memorial Fund to support Bishop Hogan Memorial School and other education efforts dear to him.
Michael Layer is a reporter for the Missouri Times and the Missouri Times Magazine. He joined the Missouri Times in August 2017 after graduating from Goucher College the previous May. To contact Michael, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @_MichaelLayer