Family, friends and one-time political adversaries are mourning the death of the last Democrat to represent Columbus in the Indiana General Assembly.

Bob Hayes, 83, a retired attorney, died after a battle with cancer Tuesday in his Columbus home.

First elected in 1974 by narrowly defeating incumbent Frank Runge to represent District 59 in the Indiana House of Representatives, Hayes did not give up that seat permanently until Republican David Yount defeated him in the 1996 election.

However, results from two elections did force the Democrat to temporarily give up his Indiana House seat to Columbus Realtor and Republican Ted Craig in the early 1980s.

Story continues below gallery

Hayes served 18 years as a representative of Columbus in the Statehouse.

Early days

Born in Battle Creek, Michigan, and raised in Rensselaer Robert Earl Hayes began his career as a construction worker before joining the U.S. Navy, where he served aboard the USS Ticonderoga, according to his son, Columbus attorney Eric Hayes.

Basketball scholarships enabled the 6-foot-2 Hayes to earn degrees from Northeast Missouri State and Florida State universities before he spent 12 years as a history and government teacher. After earning his law degree in 1972 from Indiana University, Hayes moved to Columbus.

His younger brother, retired Evansville attorney Phillip H. “Phil” Hayes, served in the Indiana Senate from 1971 to 1974. On the same night that Bob Hayes was first elected state representative, State Sen. Phil Hayes was elected to his first and only term as Indiana’s 8th District congressman.

Friendly adversaries

The same year that Bob Hayes was first elected in 1974, voters also sent Republican Robert Garton of Columbus to the Indiana Senate for the first time.

Garton, who eventually became the chamber’s most powerful member as Senate President Pro Tem, remembers Hayes as someone who worked extremely well with his constituents.

“He was very committed to his principles, and always followed through,” Garton said.

But when the two lawmakers appeared together during the Third House legislative sessions, “the debates always got interesting,” former Columbus mayor and fellow Democrat Nancy Ann Brown Poynter said.

Yount, who served 10 years in the General Assembly after defeating Hayes, also recalls those exchanges between Garton and Hayes at the former Gene’s Cafeteria on the second floor of the old Commons.

“Some of them got a little testy because of their different political philosophies, but there was never any doubt they respected one another,” said Yount, now retired and living in Carmel.

Garton described Hayes as his friend.

Workers’ champion

Hayes strongly supported proposals such as reversing gerrymandering, finding alternative funding to replace property taxes, supporting the Equal Rights Amendment and living wills, Eric Hayes said.

Only 13 years old when his father became a lawmaker, Eric Hayes said he recalls multiple times that his father, still in work clothes, fell asleep sitting upright in the living room while studying legislative matters.

“Dad told me his concern is working people,” Eric Hayes said. “He said that since they didn’t have any lobbyists, he was it.”

An assistant majority floor leader, Bob Hayes was a member of House committees including judiciary, education, courts, criminal code and human affairs.

But what impressed Brown Poynter most was that Hayes never avoided speaking his mind on any political topic.

“Today, you always hear politicians say they’ll get back with you on an issue,” Brown Poynter said. “Bob always gave you his answer right away.”

Although Hayes displayed passion about issues and the law, Yount described his 1996 opponent as a gentleman on the campaign trail.

“Neither one of us ever said a bad word about each other, which was somewhat unprecedented,” Yount said. “He had a reputation as a Constitutional scholar, and his knowledge of the law was very well-respected.”

Yount, who garnered 40 percent more in campaign contributions than Hayes, received 54 percent of the votes in the November 1996 election for the Columbus seat in the Indiana House of Representatives.

After politics

When attorney Stan Gamso began practicing law in Columbus, Hayes was still heavily occupied with his legislative work, Gamso said.

Although they would only work together later on a handful of cases, Gamso – now president of the Bartholomew County Bar Association – recalls a colleague who was always well-prepared to represent his clients.

“He was very straight-forward, and an exceptionally nice guy,” Gamso said.

Always preferring to walk rather than drive, Hayes never seemed too busy to chat with neighbors on downtown sidewalks, Brown Poynter said.

“You could bring up any topic, and Bob could give you a different angle from someone else involved you’ve never heard of,” she said.

Both Hayes and his wife, Marilyn, were avid readers who kept up to date on not only state issues, but local and national politics as well, Brown Poynter said.

“He was passionate about all levels of government,” she said. “He liked to find ways to make things happen.”

After spending so much of his life as a public figure, Bob Hayes preferred to keep news of his terminal lung cancer a private matter, Eric Hayes said.

Besides his wife and son, survivors include a daughter, Jennifer Hayes, and three brothers, Phillip, Donald and Michael Hayes.

50 years of Indiana House representatives from Columbus

1967-1970: Cal Brand (R)

1971-1972: Bob Harden (D)

1973-1974: Frank Runge (R)

1975-1980: Bob Hayes (D)

1981-1982: Ted Craig (R)

1983-1984: Hayes

1985-1986: Craig

1987-1996: Hayes

1997-2006: David Yount (R)

Since 2007: Milo Smith (R)

Memorial service

A memorial service for retired attorney and former State Rep. Bob Hayes of Columbus will be held late next week.

The service will begin at 2 p.m. on Friday, May 12, at North Christian Church, 850 Tipton Lane, Columbus.

Arrangements are being handled through Barkes, Weaver & Glick Funeral Home in Columbus.

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.