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State government stalwart, Larry Bare, remembered for vast knowledge, no nonsense advice


State government stalwart, Larry Bare, remembered for vast knowledge, no nonsense advice

Sep 27, 2023 | 4:56 pm ET
By Paul Hammel
State government stalwart, Larry Bare, remembered for vast knowledge, no nonsense advice
Larry Bare, during a recent family vacation to Fort Robinson State Park (courtesy of Kelly Bare)

LINCOLN — Larry Bare was likely the most powerful state official you’ve never heard of.

That’s despite working a state-record 16 years as the chief of staff for two governors, heading up State Capitol offices and agencies, and working under seven different governors — all over five decades of public service.

Bare’s style was low key but direct. His two-word response to most questions from reporters was “no comment.”

On Wednesday, current and former state officials paid tribute to Bare, 75, who died Monday after a brief illness that was described as “brutal” in his obituary posted on Legacy.com and in the Lincoln Journal-Star.

Former Govs. Dave Heineman and Mike Johanns both praised Bare — who served them as their chief of staff — for his wise counsel and straight-forward advice.

‘Knowledgeable … trusted’

“He was the most knowledgeable person regarding state government issues that I have ever met,” Heineman told the Examiner. “As governor, I appreciated and trusted Larry because his focus was always on making government work better.”

Johanns, in comments posted to Bare’s online obituary, said that Bare was an important advisor to him, first as Lincoln Mayor and later as Nebraska governor.

“He embodied the best in his many roles in government,” Johanns wrote. ” ‘Honesty, integrity and hard working’ are words that describe Larry and there is so much more.”

Bare was born in the northwestern ranch community of Rushville, but his family later moved to Lincoln, where he graduated from Lincoln Southeast High School and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

While his degree was in education, he instead launched on a long career in local and state government.

Pressure cooker of a job

In an interview with the Omaha World-Herald in 2014, said that he was able to survive in the pressure-cooker job of chief of staff — the governor’s main confidant and the person who directly deals with state problems and crises — because he adopted a low profile, doing his job behind the scenes, not via quotes in the media.

“You’re not the governor. You don’t speak for the governor. You’re better off staying out of the newspaper,” Bare said.

“They paid the filing fee, they walked in the parades, and I didn’t,” he added.

In that same story, then State Sen. Mike Flood said that when he first met Bare, he considered him the “meanest man in America,” because he was always saying “no” to his ideas.

Later, Flood said he grew to respect and admire his vast knowledge.

Larry had the unique ability to advocate strongly for the executive branch while truly respecting the Legislature and its prerogatives,” Flood, now a U.S. congressman, said Wednesday. “He was always on duty and did his job very well.”

Former State Sen. Heath Mello, now the head of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, said there “will never be another state official like Larry Bare, which makes his legacy that much more meaningful.”

Could be ‘prickly’

Kevin O’Hanlon, a retired reporter who covered state government for The Associated Press and the Lincoln Journal Star, said Bare was a dedicated public servant who “could be a bit prickly.”

“But that was part of his charm,” O’Hanlon said.

Bare, who some called a “walking history book” of state government, served a variety of jobs before becoming a chief of staff. They ranged from acting director of the Department of Economic Development to head of the governor’s budget and policy research offices.

Most recently, Bare worked for the State Legislature, as a senior research consultant to the Executive Board. The job included coordination of shifting State Capitol offices during the ongoing renovation of the historic building.

He is survived by his wife, Nancy; daughter Kelly, son Brad, and daughter-in-law Lucia; a brother, Charles; and several grandchildren.

His family, in his obituary, said that he loved his family “fiercely,” and was a fan of  “sports of all kinds (especially football), writing instruments, red wine, ball caps, opening Christmas presents early, and doing laundry.”

A celebration of Bare’s life is scheduled on Oct. 29 at Lincoln’s Mourning Hope Grief Center, 1311 S. Folsom St., from noon to 2 p.m.