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Delaware's only female governor, Ruth Ann Minner, dies

Delaware’s first and only female governor, Ruth Ann Minner, passed away Thursday. She was 86.

Minner served two terms as governor from 2001 through 2009.

Gov. John Carney, who served as Minner’s Lt. Governor, called Minner a “trailblazer” and an inspiration for young women.

“During her time in office, Governor Minner worked with legislators of both parties to improve health care and fight cancer, strengthen our education system, and attract good jobs to our state. She will be greatly missed," said Carney in a statement.

The signature accomplishment of her 8 years in office was passing the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act in 2005, making Delaware only the second state to ban indoor smoking. It was part of Minner’s efforts to address cancer issues in the First State.

State senate leadership are also remembering Minner’s other accomplishments during her tenure.

“[Minner] helped more than 13,000 Delawareans and counting earn a college degree by signing the SEED scholarship into law, placed reading specialists in every elementary school and math specialists in every middle school, signed full-day kindergarten into law, and fought for common-sense gun safety,” said Delaware Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola, Majority Leader Bryan Townsend, and Majority Whip Elizabeth Lockman in a joint statement

The SEED Scholarship was expanded by lawmakers this year.

State House Leadership says Minner was also a champion for equality, before it was a popular position.

“Governor Minner also championed equal rights, becoming the first governor to support legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. She inspired a generation of young women and girls to reach for heights never before thought possible,” said House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst and Majority Whip Larry Mitchell in a joint statement.

Gov.Carney says Minner's background help define her work throughout her career.

“Governor Minner focused on raising up the working families of our state because she knew what it meant to struggle,” Carney says. “Having grown up poor in Slaughter Beach, she brought that perspective to her job every day, and she never lost her attachment to those roots.”

Born and raised in Sussex County, Minner faced adversity throughout her life. She was widowed in her 30’s, and left with three children to raise.

Minner started her political career as a clerk in the Delaware House of Representatives. She then went on to serve as receptionist for then Gov. Sherman Tibbitt.

Minner faced roadblocks in state government as a widowed mother, confronted with a law requiring her husband to co-sign any loan application.

When local elected officials couldn’t help, Minner ran for the state House to fix this injustice for other Delaware women.

Minner served four terms in the state House and two in the Senate. She was elected lieutenant governor in 1992.

Minner served as lieutenant governor under Tom Carper, who says she always worked tirelessly for Delaware voters.

“Ruth Ann succeeded in taking on various leadership positions because she was admired by both Democrats and Republicans for her commonsense approach to governing and her ability to build consensus on difficult issues,” Carper said "Put simply: Ruth Ann Minner worked tirelessly. She was indefatigable, and she always sought to do the right thing. Voters in Delaware rewarded her for that and she rewarded them with years of service that we can all be proud of.

Carper's current counterpart in the U.S. Senate, Chris Coons, says Minner's accomplishments as governor continue to benefit Delawareans to this day.

"Annie and I fondly remember attending her annual picnics at her home down in Milford, where nothing would light up her face more than talking about her family, particularly her grandchildren. She was a devoted matriarch to not just her own family but to our entire state. Ruth Ann Minner was tough as nails, kept her word, and cared deeply about the people of Delaware. She will be sorely missed."

Other state officials are remembering Minner’s legacy, including U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, the first woman and African-American to represent Delaware in congress.

“Governor Minner lived by a simple code that she so often articulated, ‘For Ruth Ann Minner, farmer, gardener and daughter of a sharecropper, it is simply this: Work hard. Do the right thing. And leave things better than you found them,” says Blunt Rochester.

Roman Battaglia is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.
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