As Rep. Sue Wallis stood on the floor of the Wyoming House of Representatives, the normally outspoken legislator from Recluse seemed a bit more passionate than usual as she debated a bill to create domestic partnerships in the Equality State.
Few know it may have been a case of full moon fever, even though the debate took place on Jan. 30, three days after the full moon’s appearance.
One month and one day had passed since Wallis lost her husband of two decades. They had been married under a full July moon. And as she spoke in favor of the bill, she couldn’t help but think of the bond she shared with her husband — and how other Wyoming residents might be affected.
“One particular couple, elderly gentlemen, have been together for over 40 years,” she said. “Wonderful human beings. Good and decent in every sense of the word, have contributed much to their communities and their families.”
“But here’s the heartbreak,” she continued. “I just lost my husband, a man that I was married to. And I will tell you because I was his wife, I was allowed to be there with him when he died, everything transferred immediately to my name. I didn’t have to produce paperwork or justify my presence throughout that process, or have other relatives who have not been involved for the last 20 years, I didn’t have to ask their permission when we decided if we were going to go with a burial or a cremation.”
Never one to be brief or blasé when she fights for bills — House Speaker Tom Lubnau has joked that her speeches are like filibusters — the issue this session moved Wallis more than in previous years.
Ultimately, the bill failed.
Wallis’ husband of 19 years, Rod McQueary, died Dec. 29, 10 days before the start of the 2013 session. He died after an illness. He was 61.
Wallis arrived at the Legislature, knowing her husband would want that. She continues to fight for the issues that they advocated. Politically, as in other aspects of their life together, they were sympatico, she said.
If McQueary were still alive, he’d be in Cheyenne with Wallis, staying at their hotel and awaiting her return after her long days in committee meetings, on the House floor, and being pulled aside by lobbyists and journalists.
“For the last few years, he’d been fairly disabled, although he could get around,” she said, explaining that he had been bucked off a horse. “But he hurt all the time. So we had kind of settled on a routine. He called himself my ‘camp tender.’ He took care of everything. He gassed the car, did the laundry, made sure I had supper when I got back to the room.”
At night, the couple would talk. They cared about civil liberties — Wallis identifies herself as a “libertarian Republican” — and agriculture and food issues. He was brought up on a ranch outside Elko, Nev. And she was brought up on her family ranch in Recluse, where she and McQueary later returned and worked.
In addition to fighting for gay and abortion rights, they advocated horse slaughterhouses for meat, which Congress had banned from 2006 through 2011. Horse-meat advocacy is one of the reasons Wallis’ critics began calling her “Slaughterhouse Sue.”
But Wallis and McQueary thought that slaughtering horses for meat was humane treatment for old horses whose owners otherwise sometimes abused them or turned them out to starve. The possibility of selling old horses to slaughterhouses could mean they are valuable and are treated better. She is an executive of a company that’s looking to build slaughterhouses.
In addition to talking about the bills they cared about, during those nightly talks Wallis would discuss her conflicting feelings about some bills, asking McQueary how he’d vote.
“He was always my sounding board,” she said. “He was kind of the rock, the place that I would come back to.”
That sounding board is gone, and Wallis misses the conversation.
He could cut to the core of a problem, “cutting through all of the baloney,” she said.
She still feels his presence. Having been together for so long, Wallis knows what he would say to any problem.
Returning to the Legislature
McQueary got sick Dec. 2.
The couple had shuttled back and forth between their Recluse family ranch; Cheyenne, where she served as a member of the Joint Appropriations Committee, which met before the Legislature convened; and Denver, where he was admitted after he got sick.
He died from complications that likely stemmed from the horse accident.
After he was released from the Denver hospital, they settled in the hotel in Cheyenne, looked for local doctors, and prepared for the session.
He died before the session started.
Wallis resumed her work. Everyone loses someone, she said.
The Wyoming Legislature, with one of the shortest sessions of any state legislature, will tentatively last 37 days this year. Staying home wasn’t an option, Wallis said.
“And quite honestly, what good was sitting around feeling sorry for myself going to do?” she added. “It wasn’t going to change anything. I might as well do good in the world.”
Wallis has served in the House for six years. She’s the daughter of Dick Wallis — who served in the House for 14 years — and said she and her husband were close with her colleagues at the Legislature. She said she’s received lots of hugs and words of sympathy. Many colleagues contributed to his memorial. Leadership has allowed her to use their offices if she needs some time alone, she said.
Lubnau, the House speaker who also represents parts of Campbell County, described Wallis and McQueary as soulmates who were truly in love. He gives Wallis credit for returning to the Legislature at a difficult time.
“Sue and I have known each other for a long time,” he said. “Sue has the character and commitment of which people in Wyoming can be proud. She works hard, listens well and advocates for her causes.”
Wallis and McQueary had been friends before they started dating.
“We used to commiserate with each other over our lousy love life,” she said. “…Neither one of us could imagine that the other would be remotely interested in [each other.]”
They knew each other from the cowboy poetry community. His poetry was renowned for humor. He read it on “The Johnny Carson Show.” He co-wrote a book of poetry about his co-author’s experiences in the Vietnam War, entitled “Blood Trails,” published in 1993.
“In the 20 years we spent together, I will tell you that we never ever had what most people consider a serious argument,” she said. “I mean there were times when we disagreed. And we would talk those things through and come to an understanding and a course of action. But there was never anything except kindness and respect and love between us. You know that is not something that most people can say. We were particularly suited for each other. We saw the world in the same way.”
After his death, McQueary was cremated. His ashes will be spread this summer, on the full moon of July, over Wyoming and Nevada ranges that he rode and loved, Wallis said.
“We were married on the full moon in July,” she said. “We celebrated our anniversary every full moon. It was always special to us.”