The Other Side of the Doors: Butte & Beyond -- Congressman Pat Williams “In the Crucible of Change”

Pat Williams
Evan Barrett, Executive Producer

This interview/discussion is a segment of the series “In the Crucible of Change” - Montana’s Dramatic Period of Progressive Change [1965-1980] - From a Corporate Colony to a Citizens’ State and the Challenge of Keeping It That Way - An Evan Barrett Telefilm Series; Produced by: Highlands College/Montana Tech & Orphan Girl Productions (Evan Barrett); Executive Producers: Evan Barrett & John Garic; Host/Moderator: Evan Barrett; Produced in the studios of Helena Civic Television (HCTV) – Production unit: Kirsten Faubion, Stephen Maly, Dave Clarke, Kelsea Kimerly, Lauren Fredrickson, Jeanie McLean-Warden; Opening Voice Recording - Ian Hadley; Photos: Montana Historical Society Photo Archives - Tom Cook; Personal Photo Archives of Evan Barrett; Music: “Living Room Jam” & “Island Breeze” - Richard H. Kuschel - The Recording Center - Missoula, Montana; “Orphan Girl” used by permission of Headframe Spirits – John & Courtney McKee; Partially funded by Grants from Humanities Montana (an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities), Montana History Foundation, and The Greater Montana Foundation (encouraging communication on issues, trends and values of importance to Montanans).


Pat Williams emerged from the Mining City of Butte, Montana with a sense of grassroots, people-oriented politics.

His inherent belief in the power of ordinary citizens carried him through the Montana Legislature and into Congress for a record-setting period. The accomplishments of his long career partially obscured his innate progressive and populist instinct that is reflective of the period of “in the Crucible of Change.” This film addresses Pat’s early years when his progressive instincts and activities resulted in pushback from the giant Anaconda Company which had held Montana hostage for 75 years. Pat is joined for part of the film by former campaign staffer, and now prominent media consultant, Michael Fenenbock for reflections on Pat’s 1978 “Door-to-Door to Congress” campaign, which demonstrated the power of his belief in the people on the other side of the doors.

Pat Williams (b. 1937) rose from teaching grade school in his hometown of Butte, MT, to serving for the longest number of consecutive terms (9 terms, 18 years) in the US House of Representatives of anyone in Montana history. Pat was a member of the National Guard and attended UM in Missoula and William Jewel College, graduating from the University of Denver. Pat also served in the Montana legislature for 2 terms (1966 & 1968 elections). In 1969. Pat helped his legislative seat-mate John Melcher get elected as Montana’s Eastern District Congressman in the Special Election that June. Pat went to Washington DC as Melcher’s Executive Assistant. Upon returning to Montana, Pat headed up the Montana offices of the innovative Mountain Plains Family Education Program. In 1974, Pat ran unsuccessfully for Montana’s Western District Congressional seat in a three-way race with former Congressman Arnold Olsen and state Legislator Max Baucus. After the drafting and passage of the 1972 Montana Constitution, Pat was named a member of Montana’s first-ever Reapportionment Commission. In 1978 he successfully ran for Congress, conducting a massive grass-roots door-to-door campaign of 1½ years, reaching 50,000 doors. In a hotly contested 6-way Democratic primary, Pat won going away and also handily won the general election. Pat served in Congress from January, 1979 until January of 1997, 14 years representing the Western District and 4 years representing the entire state. Upon his retirement from Congress, in 1997 Williams returned to Montana where has been an instructor at the University of Montana and Senior Fellow and Regional Policy Associate at the Center for the Rocky Mountain West. He is a former member of the Montana Board of Regents and serves on a number of national education-related boards.

In Congress Pat was a Deputy Whip of the U.S. House of Representatives and sat on committees on: Budget, Natural Resources, Education and Labor, and Agriculture. Pat’s leadership helped pass trailblazing legislation to assist hard-working middle-class families and ensure opportunities for every child. Pat’s fingerprints are on many pieces of important legislation, including the College Middle Income Assistance Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Toddlers and Childhood Disability Act, the Library Services and Construction Act, and the Museum Services Act. Pat successfully sponsored the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area and the Rattlesnake Wilderness area, helped save the Bob Marshall Wilderness from oil and gas exploration, and helped ban geothermal energy drilling near the borders of Yellowstone National Park. As Chairman of The Post-Secondary Education Committee, he protected the National Endowment for the Arts from elimination, a remarkable undertaking during a very trying time for the Agency. Pat worked tirelessly with Tribal College Leaders to build Montana’s seven Tribal Colleges. He was also responsible for the legislation that created The American Conservation Corps, which became the Corporation for National Service, giving thousands of America’s young people a chance to serve their country and pursue higher education.

Pat lives in Missoula with his wife Carol Griffith Williams, former Montana Senate Majority Leader. They have three children and five grandchildren.