Bush Nominee Found Dead, Apparent Suicide

Although news sources initially hesitated to call it a suicide, statements by the the medical investigator's spokesman lead me to wonder: Why would Colin McMillan, a Bush nominee for Secretary of the Navy, commit suicide ?

McMillan, 67, was found dead Thursday at his 55,000-acre ranch in southern New Mexico, near the White Sands Missile Range.

"The cause is a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The manner is suicide," said Tim Stepetic, spokesman for the state medical investigator.

District Attorney Scot Key would not say whether McMillan left a suicide note. He said a handgun was found with the body.

McMillan "had a recurrence of cancer," but "everybody thought he was recovered, recuperating quite well," Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said Friday on the Senate floor. Domenici had said the Senate would have confirmed McMillan soon.

Family spokesman Bill Owen downplayed the cancer, saying McMillan had a growth removed from his mouth in the past weeks and the prognosis was for a complete recovery.

"Based on everything we know, Colin was doing well and was waiting like the rest of us for Senate confirmation (as Navy secretary)," Owen said. "Everything was on 'go,' but it's a time-consuming process."

President Bush nominated McMillan in May for the Navy post, which had been vacant since Gordon England left in January to become deputy secretary of the new Homeland Security Department.

The president said he and his wife were "saddened by the death of our good friend."

"Colin was a public servant and patriot," Bush said.

McMillan served in the Marine Corps from 1957 to 1972 and was assistant defense secretary in the early 1990s, during the first Bush administration.

McMillan ran Permian Exploration Corp. in Roswell. He was a member of the New Mexico House from 1971 to 1982 and ran for U.S. Senate in 1994, losing to Democratic incumbent Jeff Bingaman in a bitter and costly campaign.

Domenici called McMillan "someone who succeeded at everything he tried and everything he did, and yet he was about as humble as anyone you will ever meet."

What could lead a man who served 15 years in the Marines, had lots of political experience, success in the oil business and close connections to the Bush family, to want to end his own life? As the Albuquerque Tribune noted, he was "seemingly at the pinnacle of his public service career."

So why would he kill himself? Was he depressed? Doesn't sound like the type. Was he afraid of something? If so, then what? And why has foul play been ruled out as a possibility?

McMillan died around lunchtime Thursday, and his body was found at his Three Rivers Ranch in Otero County by two employees, said Roswell Mayor Bill Owen, a family spokesman and longtime McMillan employee.

"We will all find out someday . . . how this all happened. But in the meantime all we can say is that we miss him terribly," [U.S. Sen. Pete] Domenici said.

McMillan "really looked forward to becoming secretary of the Navy," Domenici told fellow senators.

"Colin was a public servant and patriot who served his country and state as a Marine, state legislator, assistant secretary of defense, community leader and successful businessman," [President] Bush said.

"That's how I'll always remember him, as a man who loved his beautiful wife and knew it was always family that mattered most," Jennings said. "They represented all the joy and good fortune that could come out our small corner of the state."

While his business interests centered on oil, the longtime politician shaped the future of ranching, farming, banking and water rights in southern New Mexico.

"As a Pecos River commissioner, he made sure that the integrity of the farming community of southern New Mexico remained in tact," said Sen. Rod Adair, a Roswell Republican. "We didn't always see eye to eye, but you can't deny the good things that he did for the people of our community."

McMillan loomed large in New Mexico politics during the past 30 years.

"Up until the day he died, he had a tremendous influence on the New Mexico Republican Party," said Sen. Ramsay Gorham, the state Republican Party chairwoman who considered McMillan a close friend. "We all respected him so much. He was a gentle giant known for his grace and humility."

McMillan handpicked the men and women he believed were the bright future of New Mexico politics, most recently leading John Sanchez's failed gubernatorial campaign against Bill Richardson last year.

"I first met him when he was on an Albuquerque campaign stop while running for (the U.S.) Senate in 1994," Sanchez said. "I didn't know much about his campaign, but he visited me at my (Albuquerque) business, and by the end of our conversation he had a check from me and a friend for life."

"He was always willing to make the tough decisions," Gorham said. "He would stand by what he believed in, even if it was unpopular and could hurt his career."

McMillan served in the state House of Representatives from 1971-82. McMillan was the architect of the 1981 plan that cut taxes statewide by about $200 million. The plan came to be called the "Big Mac" after McMillan.

Owen, the Roswell mayor, said McMillan fondly remembered his days as a Marine, becoming a platoon leader by age 22. When tapped by the president in May, McMillan was eager to take the reins as Navy secretary, Owen said.

McMillan was assistant U.S. defense secretary from 1990 to 1992 under former President Bush. He earned the Medal for Distinguished Public Service, the department's highest civilian award. He ran George W. Bush's 2000 campaign in New Mexico.

Despite his public prominence and political and business influence, McMillan remained a humble man, Owen said.

"He made so many anonymous contributions to charities throughout the state because he had made something of himself and wanted to help others," Owen said. "He was special and a real inspiration."

McMillan preached community service, working as a Sunday school teacher, Scout master, Little League coach and fund-raiser for community projects.

There are so many questions around the Bush family and their two presidential administrations. This may be just another one that won't get answered any time soon.