Ellen Simpson, 65, of Jefferson City, passed away Friday, March 23, 2012, after a long and valiant battle with cancer. She was born in Butte on July 8, 1946, the youngest child of Lauritz C. “Buck” Neilsen and Margaret Luoma Neilsen, formerly of Red Lodge.
She attended Butte public schools and Butte Business College, married Carl Engstedt of Butte in 1965, and the couple moved to Helena shortly thereafter. In her early career, her employment included the Maffei and Harrington Law Firm in Butte, Union Bank and Trust Co. (now Wells Fargo Bank) in Helena, St. Paul’s Methodist Church and the Ghost Art Gallery.
But it was in the legislative arena where Ellen found her true calling. She went to work as legislative staff at the Environmental Quality Council in 1981, eventually moving on to independent contracting as an association manager and lobbyist. In 1999, she joined the Montana Wood Products Association and served as executive vice president until her retirement in 2010 due to ill health. Although her professional life was centered in Helena, Ellen was extremely proud of her Butte roots.
In her role as an independent contractor, Ellen represented various associations, but she was most passionate about Don’t Gamble with the Future. She was a fierce opponent of gambling and lobbied the issue in several legislative sessions, becoming known statewide as the “Anti-Gambling Lady.” With the Montana Wood Products Association, she was a dedicated advocate for the timber and wood products industries, and became well known in western Montana through her monthly commentaries on KUFM Radio.
Honors included induction as a Montana Department of Natural Resources Forestry Pioneer and the Forest Resources Association Western Region 2011 Forestry Activist Award. Shortly before her passing, she was notified that she was also to receive the FRA 2011 National Forestry Activist Award.
Ellen loved the legislative process, and in recent years longed for earlier days when legislative debate included a much higher degree of statesmanship. She enthusiastically kept up with current events, and held strong opinions on a variety of issues which she would gladly share in terms that left no doubt as to where she stood. She embraced good government and good policy, and her politics were driven by issues rather than political party. She was passionate about the role of lobbyists in informing and advocating in the legislative process, and deplored the frequent demonization of the lobbying profession that has become vogue in today’s openly hostile political arena. Above all, she valued and took great pains to maintain and protect her credibility, a fact to which anyone who worked with her in the legislative process would attest.
Over the course of her career, Ellen was active in a variety of civic organizations and activities, including the Campfire Girls Board of Directors, Lewis and Clark County Transportation Advisory Council, Kiwanis, St. Paul’s UMC Committees, and work-related boards and commissions including the Workforce Investment Board, Helena Republican Dinner Club and the Society of American Foresters.
Ellen enjoyed many outdoor activities including backpacking, cross-country skiing and especially river floating. More recently, she enjoyed traveling, particularly within the United States including Alaska and Hawaii, but also to such far-flung places as New Zealand, South Africa and Canada.
Ellen is survived by her husband Dave Simpson, formerly of Hardin, whom she married in 2007, and by her first husband, Carl Engstedt of Helena. Affectionately known to all as “Gramme,” the most important element in Ellen’s life was her family: son Eric Engstedt, daughter Christina Engstedt (Tom “Toby” Weida) and grandchildren Tiana Pallister, Talon Pallister, Austin Jonas, Gabriella Weida, Kennedy Engstedt and Sienna Engstedt, all of the Helena area. She is also survived by brothers Dale Neilsen of San Diego and Lyle (Lynn) Neilsen of Butte, sister Selma Neilsen of Aberdeen, Wash., and several nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her parents.
Cancer ultimately destroyed Ellen’s body, but it could not diminish her spirit or suppress the fire in her belly. Her family would like to express special appreciation to Dr. Thomas Weiner and the nurses and staff at the St. Peter’s Hospital Cancer Treatment Center for their kindness and care provided during her three years of treatment.
Cremation has taken place. Friends and colleagues are invited to a memorial gathering at the Montana Club in Helena on Friday, March 30, beginning at 4 p.m. to celebrate Ellen’s life. Readings and remembrances will start at approximately 4:30 p.m. Memorial contributions may be made to the Montana History Foundation on behalf of the Montana Club, St. Peter’s Hospital Cancer Treatment Center or a charity of your choice.