Ruth Ann Minner: Delaware’s Only Woman Governor

“What she did was groundbreaking,” Gary Patterson, one among her closest former advisers, advised me. “Did we take a look at polls? Actually. However did they drive her life? No, no. She had an inner-fire that advised her what to do.”

Minner was a “progressive earlier than we knew what to name it,” the present governor, John Carney, mentioned at her funeral service this fall. Her accomplishments as governor, a seat she held for 2 phrases starting in 2001, additionally will be seen as a mirror of her personal previous and her struggles. Having scrambled to get her GED so she may present for her children after the demise of her first husband, she made school tuition-free for college kids who saved up their grades. Having misplaced her second husband to most cancers in 1991, she fought to move an indoor smoking ban, making Delaware the primary state to enact a complete smoke-free legislation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The smoking ban was the largest combat of her profession. State legislators tried to water down the invoice. She mentioned no, almost paying dearly for it in her slim reelection marketing campaign. When she walked parade routes, protesters threw cigarettes as she handed by, chanting, “BAN RUTH ANN.” However Minner wasn’t the kind to dwell on setbacks, or make herself the middle of the story. “Simply think about if I had mentioned, ‘Woe is me. I’m a widow with three children with nowhere to go, no job and no schooling,’” Minner said in a podcast on the event of her eighty fifth birthday. “I may nonetheless be again there saying, ‘Woe is me.’”


Minner was identified for the eye she paid to voters. As a state senator, she saved packing containers of index playing cards, one for each particular person in her district. Every time she interacted with a type of voters, new notes would go down on the designated card. “I may simply see in her interactions with folks all through the state that she bought them, and so they bought her,” mentioned Jack Markell, who succeeded Minner as governor in 2009.

Her former chief of workers, Mark Brainard, as soon as recalled watching Minner sit down for espresso at Woodburn, the governor’s residence in Dover, with the cook dinner and butler, “and she or he would know all the things about their households.” The very subsequent week, at a gathering of the Nationwide Governors Affiliation in Washington, Brainard observed Minner huddled with President George W. Bush, speaking about homeland safety. “And I assumed, ‘These two photographs are the pictures which are without end locked in,’” Brainard mentioned in a January 2020 interview, “as a result of she was such a singular persona to have the ability to join in a really actual private human method with everybody from the cook dinner in Woodburn, to state workers working in a wide range of totally different features, to the president of america.”

Minner beloved fishing. She beloved quick vehicles. And she or he beloved her three sons, Frank Jr., Wayne and Gary. She held an annual crab feast in Milford, her hometown down-state, a extra conservative Delaware than what you discover in New Fort County. Minner’s household would arrange the tents and put together the aspect dishes. And she or he could be there in her apron, cooking the crabs for associates and workers. “She was the identical with everyone,” mentioned Markell.

She was additionally sensible, and she or he might be powerful. Minner was 65 when she grew to become governor. Operating as a girl? “It’s totally different,” she as soon as mentioned. Throughout an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” on the week of her swearing-in, the host Charlie Gibson requested, “Do you ever simply pinch your self and say, ‘Ruthie, my God, look what you’ve completed.’” Minner rapidly replied, “Effectively, I don’t assume I ever say Ruthie.”

Minner took nice delight in serving to Delaware’s most well-known politician, Joe Biden, attain the U.S. Senate within the early Nineteen Seventies, when she was a member of an area ladies’s membership. “Joe Biden says it’s actually the group of people that bought him elected within the first place,” Markell mentioned of the membership. “He by no means forgot that.” Almost 50 years later, on the night time he was elected president, Biden took the stage in Wilmington, peered over the socially distanced crowd, and within the entrance row, perched atop a Jeep that marketing campaign staffers had positioned close to the stage, he noticed Minner’s smiling face. “Is that Ruth Ann?!” he mentioned earlier than starting his acceptance speech. “Former Governor Ruth Ann Minner!”

The 2 of them shared Delaware, the “small marvel” of the nation. However additionally they had in frequent one thing deeper and extra elementary. She knew loss, Biden mentioned at Minner’s funeral service, addressing the pews within the Milford Church of the Nazarene, and she or he understood that “human beings are human beings.”

Once you’ve been by means of issues, the president continued, “Folks go as much as you and say, ‘I understand how you are feeling.’” You realize they imply effectively, he mentioned. However after some time, “you are feeling like saying, ‘You don’t have any concept how I really feel.’” Minner was totally different. “You realize she is aware of. And simply seeing her proceed to stroll, proceed to talk out, proceed to embrace the household that’s left, you assume to your self, ‘Perhaps I can try this.’”

“We beloved her again right here in Delaware,” Biden mentioned.

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