In the fall of 2000, tragedy struck Missouri politics when an airplane carrying then-Gov. Mel Carnahan, his son Randy Carnahan and adviser Chris Sifford crashed in bad weather.
The death of Carnahan as he closed out eight years as governor during a monumental struggle with then-Sen. John Ashcroft grabbed the attention of the state and the nation. Family, friends and coworkers, however, also deeply mourned the death of Sifford, 37 at the time, who had been at Carnahan’s side throughout his two terms as chief executive.
Born in Puxico in Stoddard County, educated at what was then called Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield, Sifford worked as a journalist before joining Carnahan’s 1992 campaign for governor.
Sifford is recalled as funny, humble and devoted to his family. On Wednesday, Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, said that legacy and his hard work in public service should be honored by designating his birthday, Aug. 6, as “Chris Sifford Day.”
The Senate Progress and Development Committee held a hearing on the bill Wednesday. At the end of the hearing, the proposal was combined with another bill designating a day to honor an historic Missourian, Edith Cunnane, who founded the St. Patrick Center in 1983 to help homeless individuals. Cunnae died in 2020.
The combined bill was approved by the committee but has not yet been reported to the Senate for debate.
The bill would not create a formal holiday. For Sifford, it says the day would be a time for Missouians “to reflect on the lives and legacies of these three men, and to recognize and appreciate the hardworking public servants of this state.”
“We don’t want to forget Chris and the contributions he made to the people of Missouri,” said Razer, who also grew up in southeast Missouri.
In the weeks after his death, stories about his life focused on his humble beginnings and devotion to his family. Throughout the time he worked for Carnahan, Sifford would regularly return home.
“A preacher and cousin back home in Sundays service said he told him ‘you may be important to the governor, and you’re his chief of staff, but here you’re just cousin Chris’, and Chris said ‘I know that’s why I come home,’” cousin Tiffany Binford told The Standard, the Southwest Missouri State University student newspaper, after an October 2000 memorial service.
A scholarship in Sifford’s name funded by a golf tournament helps journalism students attending Missouri State University and a book about his life, “18 Minutes and a Lifetime…” details how his affable and witty personality touched the lives of those around him.
Lobbyist Ron Berry, who worked for Robin Carnahan, Mel Carnahan’s daughter, when she was secretary of state, said the bill would honor a person who was an example of public service.
“Chris had a much longer effect on many of us beyond his short life,” Berry said.
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