Medical examiner’s office is conducting an autopsy.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – Oilman Colin McMillan, who was awaiting Senate confirmation as Navy secretary, died at his ranch from an apparent gunshot wound, and investigators said Friday it might have been self-inflicted.

“All indications are it could be suicide, but we’re not going to reach that conclusion until the investigation is over,” District Attorney Scot Key of Alamogordo said.

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.

McMillan, 67, died around lunch time Thursday, and his body was found by two employees on his 55,000-acre Three Rivers ranch in southern New Mexico, said Roswell Mayor Bill Owen, a family spokesman and longtime McMillan employee.

The state medical investigator’s office was conducting an autopsy Friday to determine a cause of death, said Tim Stepetic, the office’s associate director.

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.”

McMillian had run Permian Exploration Corp. in Roswell, chaired President Bush’s New Mexico presidential campaign in 2000 and served as an assistant defense secretary under Bush’s father. The son 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.

President Bush said he and his wife were “saddened by the death of our good friend.”

“Colin was a public servant and patriot,” Bush said.

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

“His death is a loss to us in New Mexico. It is a loss to the country,” Bingaman said on the Senate floor. “He was well-respected for his straight dealing and his integrity.”

McMillan served in the Marine Corps from 1957 to 1972 and was assistant defense secretary in the early 1990s, when Vice President Dick Cheney was defense secretary. He was also state chairman for Bob Dole’s presidential campaign in 1996.

Owen said he worked for McMillan for about 22 years in the oil and gas industry, at McMillan Production Co. He praised his honesty, ethics and business skill.

“He was involved in numerous types of business, was successful in all those business ventures and did so in a very up-front and honest and straightforward fashion,” Owen said.

McMillan is survived by his wife, Kay, and their four children.

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