Denfeld News

January 14, 2013
Duluth News Tribune

Former Duluth Mayor Robert Beaudin dies at age 72
By Peter Passi

After spending years working at the U.S. Steel plant in Morgan Park, Robert “Bob” Beaudin saw first-hand the devastation wrought on the Duluth community in the early 1970s as the plant diminished and then shut down, and hundreds of employees lost their jobs.

He saw friends and co-workers sell their homes and move away in search of work.

Bringing Duluth’s economy out of those depths soon became Beaudin’s mission as he quickly ascended in city politics and became mayor in 1975.

“He had a laser-like focus on the need for job creation,” former state legislator Rep. Jack LaVoy, who worked with Beaudin both in St. Paul and back home in Duluth.

Beaudin, who served nearly five years as Duluth’s 34th mayor, died Saturday at Chris Jensen Health and Rehabilitation Center. He was 72. He had been diagnosed with an early onset of Alzheimer’s disease and ultimately succumbed to a combination of other health issues, including pneumonia.

Born and raised in Duluth's West End, Beaudin worked for the U.S. Steel plant until shortly before it closed. While employed there and with the threat of a shutdown looming, Beaudin, a Denfeld grad, earned a political science degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Shannon Klein, one of Beaudin’s five children, said her father got involved in local politics for one main reason: “He thought there wasn’t enough discussion about jobs.”

Former Rep. Mike Jaros, DFL-Duluth, said Beaudin’s emphasis on bringing new employment opportunities to the community resonated at a time in the late 1970s when thousands of people were leaving town to search for work elsewhere.

“Jobs were his big thing,” Jaros said.

‘He loved Duluth dearly’

Beaudin first ran for office in 1966, seeking a seat on the Duluth School Board. He lost that race, but stayed active in Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party politics and ran for — and won — a City Council seat in 1973.

After a little more than a year in that position, he was elected council president. And in January 1975, he became mayor after Ben Boo stepped down from the office to become director of the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District. Beaudin won a full term in office later in 1975, easily winning the DFL primary to become the only name on the ballot in the general election.

In his bid for re-election in 1979, Beaudin failed to advance out of the primary, finishing third behind Boo and John Fedo. Fedo won the general election.

Nevertheless, Beaudin notched some notable accomplishments during his tenure, LaVoy said. He credited Beaudin for helping redevelop the Lyric Block in downtown Duluth into what is now the Holiday Center. Beaudin also was instrumental in launching Duluth’s skywalk system and laying the groundwork for plans to extend the freeway through Duluth by way of a series of tunnels, LaVoy said. Beaudin played an active role in convincing ME International to build a new multi-million-dollar foundry in Gary-New Duluth, as well.

“Bob loved Duluth dearly, and he worked very hard to move the city through a difficult transition to a better place,” LaVoy said.

But he also acknowledged Beaudin had his detractors in the face of a sputtering economy during his time as mayor.

After leaving office, Beaudin continued to do his part to grow the local economy, as a businessman and later as an economic development specialist.

Mike Lalich, executive director of the Natural Resources Research Institute, hired Beaudin to work first as consultant and then as a special projects coordinator. Beaudin remained on the job at the Duluth-based institute for more than a decade, until his retirement a few years ago.

“He had a unique ability and the vision to always look for new opportunities, even if they took one or two years to develop,” Lalich said. “You wouldn’t see him out front trying to take credit for everything. But Bob was very results-oriented, and he did a lot.”

He credited Beaudin for the early recruiting efforts that finally landed Cirrus Aviation, now Duluth’s largest single provider of manufacturing jobs. Lalich also said Beaudin helped obtain funding for a mineral research lab in Coleraine and for financial assistance enabling entrepreneurs and small businesses grow their operations in the Northland.

Lalich said Beaudin was very well-connected politically, and displayed an ability to work across party lines.

Active in politics

Beaudin worked on a number of campaigns over the years. LaVoy said Beaudin cut his political teeth while helping to elect Rep. Willard Munger. He also went on to play a prominent role in Jim Oberstar’s successful bid to win a congressional seat, overcoming the formidable challenge of a powerful DFL-endorsed candidate, Tony Perpich.

Beaudin’s sister, Jackie Morris, was involved in the campaign as well and went on to serve many years as Oberstar’s district director.

“They grew up in politics together. Jackie was as dedicated as Dad was to improving Duluth and the region,” Klein said.

Klein said her father was inspired by the Kennedy family.

“He loved history. He read a lot, and he really admired people who worked for the working class,” Klein said of her father.

Shelley Herman, another of Beaudin’s daughters, said her father seemed perfectly content to work behind the scenes to promote economic development without all the public attention he had experienced as a politician and particularly during his term as mayor.

“I don’t think he liked all the visibility that came with being the person out front. But he wanted to get the job done, and when he put his spirit into something it was 100 percent,” she said.

In 1988, the News Tribune checked in with Beaudin, who at the time was managing the Olde Worlde Inn at 101 W. Third St. in downtown Duluth. He said he had left politics behind, choosing instead to focus more time on his five children.

He said his time in city politics had taken a personal toll — he went through a divorce within a year of leaving the mayor’s office. But he also spoke proudly of his accomplishments, especially jobs created in the city during his term.

“I saw an opportunity to get things done, and I grabbed it,” he said.

Beaudin is survived by his five children and five grandchildren.

A visitation is scheduled for 5-8 p.m. Thursday at Dougherty Funeral Home, 600 E. Second St., and continuing Friday from 10 a.m. until an 11 a.m. funeral service in the Harborside Convention Center at the DECC.

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