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Legendary Sen. Jim Mathewson passes away at 83 years old

Jim Mathewson, the longest-serving Senate president pro tem, passed away at his home in Sedalia on Monday. Mathewson was 83 years old. 

Called a “solution looking for a problem,” Mathewson was known for his masterful handling of the Senate. He was a fierce advocate of the annual Missouri State Fair held in his district. In the legislature, Mathewson secured funding for a new building at the fairgrounds that bears his name. 

Former Sen. Jim Mathewson

Mathewson served in the Senate from 1981-2005, stepping down when term limits were enacted. Following his Senate career, Mathewson served on the Missouri State Fair Commission as well as the Missouri Gaming Commission. 

Mathewson was the youngest of eight children, born in Fristoe. He served in the U.S. Army after college and owned LeRoy’s Steakhouse in Sedalia for nearly 10 years before joining the Missouri Legislature, according to his obituary. 

Former Congressman Ike Skelton honored Mathewson in a resolution in 2004, which said: “Through the years, Senator Mathewson has been successful in many impressive legislative initiatives. He is admired for his knowledge and courage. When the history of the Missouri Senate is written of this era, the name of Senator James Mathewson will have a prominent role. I am proud to call him my friend.”

In 2014, Mathewson was named one of the best senators in the past 25 years by The Missouri Times. 

Arrangements are being handled by Heckart Funeral Home in Sedalia. He is preceded in death by his wife, Doris. 

“As Missouri’s longest-serving Senate Pro Tem, Jim will be remembered for his dedication to Missourians and love for this great state. He was a committed public servant and proud supporter of the Missouri State Fair. Jim’s work in the Missouri Senate will continue to positively impact Missourians for generations to come. Teresa and I extend our condolences to Jim’s family and friends,” said Gov. Mike Parson

“With an easy smile, a word you could trust, and a work ethic that never waned, Jim was a generational leader of immense effect. His spirit will live on in the Missouri Senate,” said former Gov. Jay Nixon

“Jim always described himself as a Benton County boy, but those of us who had the privilege of working and serving with him thought of him as a Missouri statesman. Jim’s leadership helped generations of Missourians,” said former Gov. Roger Wilson.

“He was a very skilled legislator and a respected senator. He was a most trusted advisor to me,” said former Gov. Bob Holden.

“He was the master of the Senate, he was my friend, and I will miss him,” said former Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder.

“I had the good fortune to know Jim for many years and was always impressed by his willingness to work in a bipartisan manner. Jim Mathewson’s legacy will be one of service and passionate advocacy for his district. Claudia and I are thankful for the opportunity to work with Jim on many State Fair-related issues. Our prayers are with Jim’s family and friends as they deal with the loss of this good man,” said Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe.

“My thoughts are with the family, and friends, of former Senate President Pro Tem Jim Mathewson. On behalf of the Missouri Senate Democratic Caucus, we celebrate the life of Jim Mathewson — a veteran, senator, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and proud Missourian,” said Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo

“In a lot of ways, it’s the end of an era. Politics has become a very partisan, zero-sum endeavor, from the White House all the way down to the local courthouse. But Jim never approached legislating that way. He loved a good compromise far better than just running over the opposition, and Missourians are better for it, God love yah, don’t you know,” said Jack Cardetti, president of Tightline Public Affairs

“I’ve known Senator Mathewson since I was a kid. He was always such a kind man. He and my father, Bill, served in the legislature together for a number of years. My dad became the President Pro Tem after Jim in 1997.  When I started in the Missouri House in 1999 Jim always looked out for me and I’m forever thankful to him. He cared deeply for our state and particularly his beloved people in Sedalia and the Missouri State Fair. Rest In Peace, Statesman,” said former Sen. Ryan McKenna

“There’ll never be another man, Senator, or Pro Tem like Jim Mathewson. He led the Senate during some of its most productive sessions in our state’s history, and Missourians who may never know his name benefit from his work every single day,” said former Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Roy Temple

“He was a great person to work for. I loved his sense of humor,” said former Secretary of State Terry Spieler.

“It was certainly a privilege to serve with the Honorable Jim Mathewson in the Missouri Senate. He loved the Senate, he loved Missouri, and he loved public service. He taught me the unwritten rules of the Senate and how to get bills passed. Cheers to Senator Mathewson for a life well-lived,” said Office of Administration Commissioner Sarah Steelman

“Jim Mathewson was one of the best legislators I ever knew at refusing to ever take a disagreement personally. He was everybody’s friend all the time,” said David Steelman

“I am deeply saddened to hear of Senator Mathewson’s passing. I had the privilege of serving with Jim during his last term in the Missouri Senate and cherish that time. Jim felt it an honor to serve the people of Missouri. While a serious leader, Jim was prone to laughter and could tell a good joke. A statesman, he knew how to get the job done. Missouri is better off because Jim Mathewson was here, and cared,” said former Sen. Maida Coleman.

“He went out of his way to help me although I was just a freshman from a different party. In a conference committee on one of my bills, Senator Mathewson said, ‘How can we help him get this bill passed?’ I will never forget his generosity. I tried to emulate that,” said former Sen. David Pearce

“He was the ultimate statesman that was respected and admired by all,” said former House Speaker Steven Tilley.

“He was there when I was in the House, and I remember him as someone friendly even to a lowly freshman representative, and I appreciated that. When I went to the Senate, he was brought back to spend a day and teach us about the Senate and its traditions. Those traditions meant a lot to him, and he didn’t care if you were a Democrat or a Republican, he cared about the Senate, and I always admired him for it,” said former Sen. Jay Wasson.

“Danette and I offer our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to the Mathewson family upon the announcement of the great Senator Jim Mathewson’s death. I will forever cherish the advice I received from the senator upon my announcement for running for state representative of Missouri’s 52nd district. If anyone knew what solid advice to give, it was him as he was a true giant in Missouri politics. Senator Mathewson was a strong supporter of the Sedalia community, the Missouri State Fair, and public education. He will truly be missed by so many but his great legacy of leadership will live on forever,” said Rep. Brad Pollitt.

“I knew him as a restauranteur and state legislator. He left a mark on Sediala and Pettit County and the entire state. The work he did for the state fair will never be forgotten. He looked at the bigger picture he knew if it was good for the state it was good for everybody,” said Pettis County Commissioner David Dick.

“As a kid growing up in Sedalia, Senator Jim was always a larger-than-life character to me, and I enjoyed sitting with him and listening to his stories and watching him debate. It was not until I became an adult that I could truly appreciate everything that Senator Jim did for Sedalia, which included fighting for funding for the Missouri State Fair and for State Fair Community College. The admiration that the citizens of Sedalia and Pettis County felt for Senator Mathewson transcended party lines. Senator Jim gave so much of his time to help better people lives in Missouri. It’s a legacy of service that may never be matched, even though he’d want all of us to try. Senator Jim’s life is a testament to the notion that public service is a noble, joyous calling. And he did tremendous good along the journey. It’s a legacy of service that may never be matched, even though he’d want all of us to try. Our thoughts are with the entire Mathewson family today — and all who were inspired by Jim and Doris’s example,” said Shawn Foster, vice chairman of the Jackson County Sports Complex Authority.

“He was a loyal Democrat, but his real loyalty lay with the Senate institution and its members. When we took the majority for the first time in decades, Jim Mathewson called me into his office and offered to help with the transition. He was kind and direct.  Not once, did he fail to step up to give invaluable advice to the new Senate Leadership. He identified solutions helping the Republican leadership navigate personalities and differences to bring members together for the benefit of the institution, its members, and Missouri,” said David Barklage.

“Jim Mathewson was a beloved giant in the history of the Missouri Senate and his community. He was also a man of generous wit and humor, and his acquaintance was a memorable gift to anyone who had the privilege to know him,” said former Sen. Victor Callahan.

“He was an outstanding legislator who loved Missouri and was willing to reach across the aisle to solve problems. I’ll always appreciate the kindness he showed me despite me only being a freshman Republican in the minority,” said former House Speaker Rod Jetton.

“The State of Missouri has lost a great elder statesman. I will always remember his effusive kindness and perpetual smile. He was a master at passing legislation and persuading his diverse Democratic Caucus to come together, while at the same time working with Republicans to pass legislation time and time again. His charm, intellect, ability to lead, and his propensity to work across the aisle — including with Republican Governor John Ashcroft — inspired many landmark pieces of legislation that live on today.  He will long be remembered as one of the most devoted public servants in the history of our Missouri Legislature,” said Ray Wagner

“When I worked on economic development on the House side, he was always receptive to new, innovative ideas that I had. One thing that impressed me, Mathewson respected tradition and the rules of the Senate, which is the way I was. He always had an open door to come by and visit with him, if you agreed with him on some stuff or disagreed with him. I started a dinner with all of the president pro tems and Mathewson always showed up, and he had an iteration of some historical facts about that room and some personalities. We talked and shared some thoughts about how to handle some of the rogues in the Senate; we all had our share of them,” said former Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard.

“Though I never had the privilege of serving alongside Sen. Jim Mathewson, I am saddened to have learned of his passing on Monday, Sept. 27. Sen. Mathewson had the distinction of being Missouri’s longest-serving Senate president pro tem, leading the Missouri Senate for eight years. Serving in elected office is no easy task, doubly so for legislative leaders. The fact that Sen. Mathewson earned the unanimous support of his colleagues year after year speaks volumes about his character and his commitment to upholding the institution of the Missouri Senate. I know my fellow senators will join me in reflecting on Sen. Mathewson’s many decades of honorable public service to the people of Missouri,” said Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz.

This story has been updated.