Stateline Story

Friends Remember NASBO's Gloria Timmer

  • October 31, 2000
  • By Blair S. Walker

Gloria Timmer, the executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, summoned staffers to her Washington, D.C., office last February and calmly dropped a bombshell: She had breast cancer and it was spreading throughout her body.

"Eve ryone was just devastated," recalls Stacey Mazer, now NASBO's acting executive director. "There was always a feeling of, if anyone will beat it, it will be Gloria."

An iron will and extensive medical treatments weren't enough to save Timmer, a former Kansas budget director who died Oct. 11 in Lawrence, Kan., at the age of 49. She was highly regarded by those associated with state fiscal policy.

"I thought she was a real standout, both as a state official and one of the association people, and as a person," says Peter Harkness, editor and publisher of Governing magazine. "I thought the world of Gloria, although professionally we were not always on the best of terms."

Governing periodically grades states on their financial administration and one year during Timmer's 1991-98 tenure as Kansas budget director her state got `B.' Governing noted that Kansas' budget office was run in "exemplary" fashion, but took issue with some of the accounting rules the state chose to embrace.

"She got a pretty good grade, but with Gloria anything other than an `A plus' was not enough," says Harkness, who remembers Timmer for her rigorous intellect and "a smile that could melt an iceberg. And she loved to laugh."

Born Gloria VandeHoef on Jan. 23, 1951, in Sheldon, Iowa, Timmer earned a bachelor's degree from Hope College in Holland, Mich., in 1973. That was followed by a master's in business administration from Phillips University in Enid, Okla., in 1982.

A wife and mother of two daughters, Timmer moved to Kansas and got a job with the state's Legislative Post Audit office in 1982. The following year she became a fiscal analyst with the Division of Legislative Research.

In 1989, Timmer became a principal analyst with the Division of State Budget. Two years later, then-governor Joan Finney, a Democrat, made Timmer budget director for Kansas. After Republican Bill Graves succeeded Finney as governor in 1995, he asked Timmer to stay on.

"Gloria and I perfected the budgetary good cop/bad cop routine, and you can easily guess who played the respective roles," Graves said during a Kansas memorial service for Timmer. "I got to be optimistic and encouraging, while she played the role of pessimist -- or as she liked to call it, `realist.'

While overseeing Kansas' budgetary process, Timmer served as NASBO's president from 1996-97. "She was elected president of the organization, I think, in part due to recognition of her professionalism and integrity," says Mark Ward, Missouri's budget director. In 1998, Timmer was appointed NASBO's executive director.

Although she led the organization during an era of unparalleled state prosperity and tax-cutting, Timmer cautioned that the booming economy could be masking the long-term, "real impact" of devolution on state economies.

Her death was lamented by National Governors' Association executive director Ray Scheppach.

"The real unfortunate thing about this is that we have lost in the last three or four years three people who were probably gurus in state fiscal policy -- Steve Gold, Hal Hovey and Gloria," Scheppach says. "All three of them had a real in-depth understanding of state budgets. Gloria had stepped up to the plate in the last year quite a bit in terms of speaking out and being a voice in Washington for the budget officers."

Hovey was a former budget director for Ohio and Illinois who became president of State Policy Research, Inc. After becoming stricken with cancer, Hovey calculated that his treatments would cost $25,000, donated that amount to start a fund for young cancer patients, then took his life on Oct. 18, 1999.

Gold worked for the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) for many years as an analyst of state fiscal issues, was a director of the Center for the Study of the States at the Rockefeller Institute, and a co-director of the Urban Institute's New Federalism Project. He died of cancer in August, 1996.

NASBO wants to ensure that Timmer's legacy endures, says NASBO president Robert Powell, deputy budget director for North Carolina. "We voted to establish the Gloria Timmer award," Powell says. "So she will be memorialized forever with NASBO."