Tributes pour in for Ruth Ann Minner, Delaware’s first woman governor

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Tributes  are pouring in today on news of the passing of former Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, a Milford business owner and Delaware’s first woman governor.

Battling entrenched opposition, Minner helped push through the Delaware Indoor Clean Air Act that banned smoking in most indoor spaces. Its most controversial provision banned smoking in bars and casinos.

The act contributed to a decline in the state’s once high rate of smokers. Predictions of the legislation leading to the closing of bars and restaurants did not occur, with the number of taverns and restaurants actually increasing over the years.

She also championed the groundbreaking S.E.E.D Act that guaranteed a community college education to anyone with a certain grade point average.

Minner, who twice  became a widow,  went on to get her GED, operate a business, and successfully run for office after struggling with gender-related loan restrictions.

She remained a tireless advocate for small businesses, especially companies owned by women. Her ascent to the governor’s office led many women to seek public office.

After Minner’s accomplishments in her first term, she struggled with controversies at the end of her first term and into her second. One widely reported comment over a sexual assault in prison contributed to an unexpectedly narrow victory over highly regarded Republican opponent, Judge William Swain Lee.

Lee gained fame in the state when presiding in the trial of Thomas Capano. Capano, a lawyer, and member of a prominent Delaware real estate family was convicted of killing Gov. Tom Carper’s secretary Anne Marie Fahey. Capano died in prison. The high-profile case led to books and TV movies.

Minner also faced criticism over cabinet appointments of veteran legislators with questionable qualifications and a controversial transaction regarding a piece of land in Milford that ended up with the Tigani family of liquor distributors.

The scandal led to an investigation by the state’s retired Chief Justice, who suggested reforms to deal with issues related to insider dealing and other activity that is sometimes derisively described as “The Delaware way.”

Toward the end of her term, Minner helped convince student lender Sallie Mae to move its headquarters from the D.C. area to Newark. The move brought jobs to the state during the depths of the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009.

In her final years in office, Minner battled health issues and toward the end of her term made few public appearances.

Tributes

Gov. John Carney

“Tracey and I learned the sad news today of the passing of former Governor Ruth Ann Minner. I served alongside Governor Minner as her Lieutenant Governor from 2001-2009. She was a leader who had a real common touch. Governor Minner focused on raising up the working families of our state because she knew what it meant to struggle. 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.

“Governor Minner was also a trailblazer, becoming Delaware’s first female Governor when she was elected in 2000 and paving the way for women and girls in our state to seek out leadership roles. Her path to the Governor’s office was a unique one. Widowed in her early 30s, Governor Minner served as a legislative aide in the General Assembly, and a receptionist to Governor Sherman Tribbett, before beginning her own political career. She was elected to her first of four terms in the Delaware House of Representatives in 1974. Governor Minner went on to serve three terms in the Delaware Senate, and two as Lieutenant Governor, before winning two terms as Governor.

“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. Tracey and I are praying for Governor Minner’s family, and her many friends across our state, during this difficult time.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper

“I think the remarkable thing about Ruth Ann was her path to public service – first starting as an aide in the state legislature, and later running and serving in the House. When there was an opening in the state Senate she seized the day, ran for office, and won. In the legislature, 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.

“Her decision to run for Lt. Governor and to serve with me in our administration afforded her the opportunity to demonstrate to an even broader electorate who she was as a person, her values, and how she could get things done. And right after serving alongside each other, Ruth Ann stepped up and sought the nomination for Governor. After winning the election, she went on to lead and serve our state for eight more years. 

 “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.”

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons

“Governor Ruth Ann Minner worked tirelessly for decades to make Delaware a better place for all of us. From championing anti-smoking laws to starting the SEED scholarship program, her significant accomplishments continue to benefit our state today.

“From her early days in the General Assembly to her election as our only female governor, Ruth Ann doggedly climbed the proverbial ladder, paving the way for every woman to be elected to public office in Delaware.

“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.”

Cong. Lisa Blunt Rochester

“My heart is heavy learning of the loss of my mentor and role model Governor Ruth Ann Minner. Ruth Ann’s humble beginnings, leaving school at 16 to help support her family, would form the foundation of what it meant to her to be a public servant. Humble, hardworking, and tenacious – Governor Minner never forgot the true mission and purpose of those with the privilege of representing their fellow citizens – to help others.

“I was humbled to work alongside Ruth Ann when she was Lieutenant Governor and honored to serve in her cabinet when she made history, becoming the first woman to lead the First State as Governor. But for Governor Minner, it was never about making history by simply being elected to office; it was about making history while in office.

“The Minner Administration threw open the doors of opportunity to thousands of Delaware’s children by establishing the SEED scholarship, made our state more accepting by fighting discrimination and helped make Delaware healthier by working tirelessly to reduce cancer rates in the state.

“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.’ Ruth Ann Minner worked hard, did the right things, and left things better than she found them. I, and our entire state, are grateful for her life of service.”

Attorney General Kathy Jennings

“Today we lost one of the most remarkable women our State has ever known: former Governor Ruth Ann Minner.

By the time Ruth Ann Minner broke her second glass ceiling as Governor — she was also our first female Lt. Governor — she had already recorded decades of public service. From the House of Representatives to Woodburn, Ruth Ann witnessed, and in many cases championed, some of our state’s most significant policy advancements. Landmark policies that we take for granted today — including one of the nation’s first indoor smoking bans, full-day kindergarten, and the SEED Scholarship, which has helped more than 13,000 Delaware students access a college education — are there because of her work.

Ruth Ann’s work impacted all of our lives for the better, but above all else I will remember this incredible woman for her strength and her dogged perseverance. It’s difficult for anyone to get by — let alone to get ahead — without independent wealth, an extensive family support network, or an elite education. Ruth Ann succeeded even though she lacked those privileges. She was the daughter of a sharecropper. She left high school at 16 to help support the family farm. At 32 she became a widowed mother of three children; by the time she turned 40, she had earned her GED, become a small business owner, and gone from a receptionist’s desk to a seat in the House of Representatives.

The fact that Ruth Ann not only overcame these challenges but excelled and made history is a testament to her willpower and her defiance in the face of adversity. Each of us should find inspiration in her story, and I’ll forever be grateful for everything she did for our state. Her family, her former team, and her community are all in my heart.”

Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long

“Today, we in Delaware collectively mourn the loss of one of our great leaders, Governor Ruth Ann Minner. She was a role model to so many women in our state and her life story and political career were one of a kind. As our first female governor, she was a trailblazer and worked tirelessly in a bipartisan manner to uplift all of our families up and down the state. From her grassroots down-to-earth upbringing, she put in place policies that continue to affect our families today. It was a pleasure and one of my greatest honors to work with her as a legislator and now as Lieutenant Governor. We all have her family in our thoughts and prayers.”

New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer

“Governor Ruth Ann Minner is a true Delaware trailblazer and her service to the people of our state will never be forgotten.

Governor Minner’s story is also the story of the promise of America. After dropping out of high school to support her family and becoming a widow while the mother of three young children, Governor Minner earned her GED, ran for the State House and then the State Senate. She will always be the first woman Lt. Governor and Governor of Delaware. 

From protecting open space through farmland and forestland preservation, establishing the SEED scholarship program, fighting for the smoking ban and taking other courageous leadership stances, Governor Minner led our state to a stronger and healthier place. That legacy will continue for many years after she has left us.”

State Senate leadership

Delaware Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Dave Sokola, Majority Leader Bryan Townsend, and Majority Whip Sen. Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman issued the following statement today on the passing of former Governor Ruth Ann Minner:

“The passing of former Governor Ruth Ann Minner leaves each of us with a heavy heart today, along with so many Delawareans who knew her, worked alongside her, and were inspired by her truly remarkable story of triumph in the face of adversity.
 
Ruth Ann Minner left school as a teenager to help out on her family farm. She became a single mother when her first husband passed away suddenly and yet still managed to earn her GED while working two jobs. She built a successful business with her second husband only to be widowed again when he died of cancer.
 
Through sheer perseverance of will, she went from being a receptionist in the Governor’s office to Delaware’s first female governor, a journey she began by winning a seat in the Delaware House specifically to change a banking law that had prevented her from getting a loan without the permission of her husband. Along the way, she also was elected as a state Senator and Lt. Governor.
 
As governor, she worked to reduce Delaware’s high cancer rates, helped to pass the then-controversial Clean Indoor Air Act to ban smoking in restaurants and bars, 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.
 
While her story was extraordinary at the time, her leadership would influence a generation of young women in Delaware, an inspiration that helped lead directly to women making up half of the Senate Democratic Caucus today.
 
Ruth Ann Minner is a vital figure in the history of the First State and will always hold a special place in our hearts. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family.”

 

House leadership

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst and Majority Whip Larry Mitchell issued the following joint statement on the passing of former Governor Ruth Ann Minner:

“Ruth Ann Minner was a trailblazer in every sense of the word. She led one of the most extraordinary political careers in Delaware’s history. A twice-widowed mother of three who didn’t finish high school, she worked her way up from a job as a Delaware House attaché to being a two-term governor. While she made history as Delaware’s first female governor, her story of how she got involved in public service is nothing short of inspirational.

As a widow with young children in the 70s, Ruth Ann was confronted by a law that required her husband to co-sign any loan application. When her local elected official wouldn’t help correct this injustice, Ruth Ann ran for the state House to right the wrong herself for all women. She continued a lifetime of public service as a state representative, state senator, Delaware’s first female lieutenant governor, and ultimately was elected governor in 2000.

As governor, Ruth Ann championed Delaware’s landmark 2002 Clean Indoor Air Act, as the First State became just the second state to enact an indoor smoking ban that is now commonplace across the country. She led the charge on addressing Delaware’s rising cancer rates and fought to ensure all students have access to full-day kindergarten and math and reading specialists. She was instrumental in establishing the SEED scholarship program that has helped thousands of Delawareans obtain a college degree.

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.

Those who served with and knew Ruth Ann best admired her work ethic, compassion, and dedication. She had a warm heart and a tough resolve, which made her an incredibly effective leader. We are deeply saddened by her passing, and we hope her stories are told so that her memory lives on forever.”

Newark mayor Jerry Clifton

“I am saddened by the passing of Governor Ruth Ann Minner, a true leader for Delaware women and girls. She was a pioneer with the grit to take on controversial issues we all consider commonplace today, such as the indoor smoking ban.

I had the pleasure of working with her during my time as a councilman and will always remember her ability to work across party lines to achieve what was best for the state. I admire that she never forgot where she came from and spent decades fighting to improve the lives of all Delawareans. Linda and I will remember her life of service and keep her family in our prayers.”

 

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