Mike Fellows’ absence from breakfast on Monday was noticed by members of Missoula’s American Legion Post 27, according to Commander John Angwin, even if it wasn’t particularly surprising. Fellows, a first vice commander, wasn’t known for missing events, but the 59-year-old had been ailing lately, admitted to Providence St. Patrick Hospital twice in recent months as his kidneys failed. And yet at 5:30 that same Monday evening, Fellows hobbled with the help of a walker into the Seeley Lake community hall, 45 miles away, to talk about his latest race for U.S. House as the Libertarian candidate. He was the only House candidate to attend the town forum.
Fellows’ remarks to the audience of around 30 people were his last. After giving his closing statement, he began driving home, alone, in his old Lexus sedan that had a few campaign stickers affixed to the rear bumper. Around 9 p.m., according to the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office, Fellows crossed the center line near Potomac, colliding head-on with an oncoming car. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Fellows was the face of the Montana Libertarian Party for 20 years, running in every statewide election while serving as its chairman. “The Montana Libertarian Party was Mike’s life,” says Andrew Forcier, state director for the Gary Johnson campaign. He typically polled in the single digits, but did garner over 40 percent of the vote—a national Libertarian party record—in the 2014 race for clerk of the Supreme Court when Republicans didn’t field a candidate. Political observers credit Fellows’ efforts for ensuring the Libertarian Party has kept a foothold in the state.
Still, campaigning on the political fringe could be a lonely endeavor, and Fellows’ idiosyncrasies seemed to match his outsider status. He mumbled from the podium in a voice Seeley Lake Community Council Chair Klaus von Stutterheim says was difficult to understand. Longtime state politics reporter Chuck Johnson recalls that Fellows refused to disclose personal details, including his exact age, because he considered the information private.
Even his colleagues at Missoula Community Access Television, where he worked as a producer for 24 years and served as treasurer, found Fellows inscrutable. “I really enjoyed Mike’s personality, his sense of humor,” says General Manager Joel Baird, who worked with Fellows since he started a pair of local programs in the ’90s. “In the conventional sense of, ‘Who is his family? What friends does he hang out with? Does he have any romantic interests ever?,’ nobody here could tell you.”
They did notice, however, as Fellows’ health deteriorated. Baird says Fellows appeared “incredibly frail” in recent weeks, having only begun dialysis after months of resistance.
“Part of his Libertarian principle seemed to be that he didn’t want medical help, he didn’t want to release to medical authorities the information,” Baird says.
Fellows was first admitted to St. Pat’s this spring after another MCAT producer convinced Fellows to go to the emergency room, then again in August just before a pair of scheduled debates. Fellows explained his absence to the Billings Gazette
by saying he didn’t think it was safe to drive long distances in his current health.
Less than three weeks later, Fellows was back on the trail.
“He continued to campaign because he was that committed to it,” Forcier says. “He acknowledged at different points in time that he was putting his health behind his candidacy.”