On Thursday, the sun set on the goodest boy our state had to offer. Duke, former mayor of Cormorant Village and thick-necked Great Pyrenees, died at the ripe old age of 13.
His human family wrote on Facebook that their “beloved mayor” and friend went to “doggie heaven” that day and would be “greatly missed.”
Duke first became mayor as a write-in candidate in 2014 and went on to be elected four times. In 2016 -- in all other ways a divisive year for our state and our nation overall -- Duke won every single ballot cast in the 1,000-person town’s mayoral election. (Except one, which went to his female dog companion, Lassie.)
As mayor, Duke presided over Cormorant with the grace and unflappability only a chonky little man made of fluff could possess. His responsibilities included appearing in parades, acting as town ambassador, hanging out at the local pub, and wearing a tiny top hat with the word “MAYOR” written on it in bold capital letters. He has appeared on talk shows and billboards, and earned landslide approval ratings all the while.
Those who knew him could attest that he never talked very much, but had a wise, “Gandalf”-ish temperament and soulful eyes. His favorite foods: burgers and jerky treats.
When Duke turned 91 (in dog years) in July, he retired from mayordom and settled for the occasional local public appearance. His health had been failing, his back was bad, and he was battling arthritis. His human companion, Dave Rick, said by that point, the storied statesdog had already battled lyme disease twice and had probably gotten hit by a car a few years back. Rick told the Bismarck Tribune that he suspected Duke wouldn’t make it through the winter.
He nearly made it, but his humans -- both Rick and Karen Nelson -- announced Duke’s death on Facebook on Thursday afternoon. His memorial is expected to take place in March or April at the Cormorant Town Hall.
There is great sorrow with his passing. It’s difficult to lose a leader who meant so much to so many, and greeted all with the same charm, sweetness, and heavy breathing. But if there’s anything to take away from Duke’s departure, it’s that we must all strive to be more like the people he believed we were.
Not just good boys -- the best.