Former Colorado state Rep. Elwood Gillis of Lamar passed away Feb. 6 at the age of 83. Services were held Feb. 12 in Lamar.
Lee Elwood Gillis was born in Ballinger, Texas, on Aug. 29, 1934. He graduated from Stratford High School in 1952, earned a bachelor’s degree from West Texas State in 1956.
Gillis served in the Texas National Guard and the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant. He attended Ranger School in 1957 and from there served 14 months in South Korea. Gillis rose to the rank of first lieutenant and was discharged in 1958.
A year later, working for Diamond Shamrock, Gillis made his way to Colorado, first to Pueblo and then to Lamar.
Gillis, a Republican served in the Colorado House from 1981 to 1990, including as chair of the Joint Budget Committee (JBC) in the 1988 and 1990 sessions. When he first ran for the state House, in 1980, he defeated a Democrat who had represented the southeastern Colorado district for 24 years. Gillis decided with his family that he would serve 10 years and that would be it, and he stuck to it.
He was considered a small government conservative, believing that the General Assembly ran too many bills. In a 1995 interview, Gillis said, “I went up there because I felt like that we had too much government, too many bills, too much regulation, and I don’t even know if I even introduced a bill the first year that I was up there. I was overwhelmed by the fact that after, when the session started, when I was up there we still had, there weren’t any limits. I think there were 1500 bills that were introduced. There were some legislators that were bragging on the fact that they had introduced 25 or 26 or 27 bills, and I thought, oh, my goodness. We’re going to pass all these bills and we’re going to just heap more and more regulations and more government on the backs of the citizens of this state. So, I really didn’t go up there with the intent of introducing any legislation.”
Gillis said he became interested in the budget process as a first-year lawmaker, and learned JBC from watching former Reps. Steve Durham and Tom Tancredo.
Former Rep. Brad Young, also of Lamar, said he was a teenager when he first met Gillis. Young said he wrote letters in support of Gillis to the editor of the local newspaper, which was owned by Democrats and was critical of Gillis. It eventually led to Young running Gillis’ last two campaigns, in 1988 and 1990. He told Colorado Politics that Gillis taught him how to campaign when Young decided to run for the House in 1992. “He had a strong presence in the Capitol, Young said. He believed “government had a tendency to expand and the checks and controls are our republican form of government.”
Gillis later served as mayor of Lamar and as a small businessman operated Lamar Oil Company, Green Diamond Fertilizer, Westwood Leasing and Storage, Lamar KOA Kampground, Hillcrest Ranch and as a real estate appraiser.
Gillis was proud of his Texas roots. The obituary from the Valley Memorial Funeral Chapel in Lamar noted he was interred in the Veteran’s Section at Fairmount Cemetery in Lamar, “located in what was previously, from 1836-1846, the Republic of Texas.”
Gillis’ beloved wife, Jeanette, passed away in 2012. He is survived by his daughters, Jayme (Jimmy) Greenfield of Buena Vista, Colorado and Sharon (Lance) Wilson of Wiley, Colorado and numerous family members.