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Hugh Gregg, 85; governor promoted N.H. role in primaries

CONCORD, N.H. -- Hugh Gregg -- former governor, writer, intelligence agent, member of the state's Republican upper crust, father of Senator Judd Gregg, and champion of the presidential primary -- died yesterday. He was 85.

Mr. Gregg died at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon after a brief illness, said Joel Maiola, chief of staff for Senator Gregg in Manchester.

In a White House statement, President Bush said Mr. Gregg "left an indelible mark on the state he loved and on the lives of the people of New Hampshire. In all of his endeavors, he acted with integrity and honor." Mr. Gregg, who served in political jobs from Nashua alderman to governor, also co-founded his law firm and a bank and had run several businesses.

He passed on his GOP politics to his son, who also has served as governor.

"Anyone who knew my father, knew he was an extraordinary and special person who brought humor, energy, and optimism to all his infinite endeavors, especially those involving and improving his beloved New Hampshire," Judd Gregg said.

Hugh Gregg first appeared on the political scene in 1949 as one of the many ardent backers of Wesley Powell for the Republican nomination to the US Senate. At the time, he was an alderman in his native Nashua, and in 1950, became mayor. He resigned when recalled for the Korean War where he continued the work he had done in the North Africa and China-Burma-India campaigns with the Army Counter Intelligence Corps. He also served as a counterintelligence instructor.

Once back from Korea, Mr. Gregg ran for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 1952 and won election.

His administration was based on the notion that only growth could keep tax rates down. He created the "New Hampshire Whoopers," with the idea that every resident should be "whooping it up" for New Hampshire.

Later in life, however, the moderate Republican began to question the real estate boom that characterized southern New Hampshire in the 1970s and helped found the Forum on New Hampshire's Future, a group dedicated to controlled growth.

Mr. Gregg served two terms as governor and was succeeded by Republican Governor Lane Dwinell. He ran again in 1960 against the incumbent Powell and lost.

Mr. Gregg was son of the philanthropist Harry Gregg, the prime supporter of the Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in Greenfield. He attended Nashua schools, Phillips Exeter Academy, Yale, and Harvard Law School.

He cofounded the law firm Sullivan, Gregg & Horton in Nashua, but a larger part of his career was devoted to the family millwork businesses, Gregg & Son Inc., and Gregg Cabinets Ltd., which he ran with his son Cyrus, in Chambly, Quebec; Saphikon Inc., of Milford, manufacturer of industrial sapphires; and Resources of New Hampshire Inc., of Nashua, political consultants and publishers.

The Gregg family also played a leading role in the founding of Indian Head Banks.

Mr. Gregg, a freelance writer, had been copublisher of "New Hampshire Profiles" magazine.

He published three books, two on the New Hampshire presidential primary: "The Candidates: See How They Run" in 1990, "A Tall State Revisited" in 1993, and "Birth of the Republican Party" in 1995.

Mr. Gregg's just-finished history of the primary, "Why New Hampshire," is part of the official state record published by the secretary of state.

"The primary was his passion," said Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who co-wrote the book, which traces New Hampshire's influence on presidential elections since the mid-19th century. "He was a guy of tremendous amount of good will who believed in the very grass roots politics of New Hampshire."

The book, coming out this fall, "will be a memorial to him," said Gardner.

Former Governor Walter Peterson, who worked on Mr. Gregg's gubernatorial campaign, described the former governor as `Mr. Primary.'

"He certainly could lay claim as much as any individual to working to maintain it, popularize it, and arguing cogently through the years as to the importance of the New Hampshire primary," Peterson said.

In 1997, he was named to a special New Hampshire-Iowa commission to preserve the New Hampshire primary and Iowa presidential caucuses. He also was a member of the advisory board of The Library and Archives of New Hampshire's Political Tradition, a museum of the state's politics.

In 2000, he was named to an eight-member, bipartisan commission to come up with improvements to election and campaign finance laws.

As a GOP activist, Mr. Gregg championed Ronald Reagan and went to the 1976 Republican convention as a Reagan delegate. But his feeling for Reagan had waned by the 1980 campaign and he became the leading figure in the drive to nominate and elect George H.W. Bush to the presidency.

He also served as the state's Republican National Committeeman, and since 1992 had been a member of the state Ballot Law Commission.

As a GOP historian, Mr. Gregg fought to have New Hampshire, not Wisconsin, declared the official birthplace of the Republican Party, a years-long effort that paid off in 1997 when Brittanica Online recognized that the Grand Old Party was organized on Oct. 12, 1853, at Blake's hotel in Exeter, not in May 1854, in Ripon, Wis.

In addition to his son, he leaves his wife, Catherine Warner Gregg; another son; five grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

Funeral services will be private.

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