SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – A former longtime university president and 1994 candidate for governor died Sunday in Sioux Falls. 

According to an obituary, James Beddow, known as Jim, died at the age of 81 from a “brief and unexpected illness.” 

Beddow was the longest-serving president in the history of Dakota Wesleyan University, serving in that role from 1981 to 1994. In 1994, Beddow won the Democratic nomination for governor. He lost in the general election against former Governor Bill Janklow, the Republican candidate. 

An open house celebration of life will be held at the First United Methodist Church from 5-8 p.m. on Thursday June 29. Instead of flowers, family members asked for donations to the Jim Beddow & Cooper Johnson O’Gorman tennis scholarship

In a post on social media, longtime campaign strategist Steve Hildebrand called Beddow a friend and a mentor. 

“Jim Beddow has always been a visionary and a step ahead of most others,” Hildebrand wrote. “In each professional aspect of his life, he was planning for the future, he was collaborating, he was seeking out the best ideas – all are such important traits we want in leaders.”

Hildebrand, who worked on President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008, said Beddow and his wife, Jean, joined him in Miami, Florida, for the final weeks of that campaign.

Hildebrand said Beddow’s focus on rural communities and how to plan for the future was impactful.

“Jim never took on the sexiest fights. He took on really important initiatives to make a difference,” Hildebrand told KELOLAND News. “It was never about himself. It was always about helping people.”  

Jim Abbott, the former University of South Dakota President, was Beddow’s running mate in 1994. Abbott told KELOLAND News Monday he tried to be more like Beddow.

“It was always about somebody else. It was never about what somebody could do for them,” Beddow said. “It wasn’t about ‘me’ with Jim. It was always about what is the right thing to do.”

Abbott said the fractured and nasty politics in today’s political landscape was “the antithesis of Jim Beddow.”

“I don’t remember him saying a bad word about his opponent in 1994, Bill Janklow,” Abbott said. “It was never petty politics with him. He was just a good, kind man. He was a fine person.”

On the website SoDak Governors, Republican Rep. Tony Venhuizen wrote that Beddow’s “gubernatorial campaign focused on rural economic development, and he would continue that focus on that work for the rest of his life.” 

Venhuizen also pointed out Jean served three terms in the South Dakota House of Representatives.

On Twitter, Republican U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson said “Jim Beddow was a remarkable South Dakota leader, friend and human being.”