Arizona’s first woman governor, Rose Mofford has died

Arizona’s first woman governor, Rose Mofford has died. The Arizona Republic reports on her passing, Rose Mofford, first woman to serve as Arizona governor, has died:

roseRose Mofford, the scrappy softball player from rural Globe who would make history by become Arizona’s first woman secretary of state and governor, has died. She was 94.

Mofford, who lived 55 years in the same home and kept her phone number public, died Thursday morning at Gardiner Home, a hospice in Phoenix.

Karen Scates, a close friend and long-time political associate, said Mofford had been moved to the hospice as a precaution after an Aug. 31 fall at her own home.

“She was moved to Gardiner House to have a little more care and attention, and was doing fine and was recovering,” Scates said.

According to Scates, “She was in good spirits yesterday. She went peacefully – that is all we can hope for.” She added that Mofford, just the day before, had read the newspaper and snacked on lemon cakes and a vanilla milkshake.

Mofford, of course, was anything but vanilla.

As secretary of state, she took over the top office in 1988 after Gov. Evan Mecham was impeached for obstruction of justice and misuse of funds.

Rose Mofford made history as Arizona’s first female governor, but her hairdo was equally legendary.

Well into old age, she continued to wear her trademark swirl of white hair piled high in a French roll that made her an easy caricature for political cartoonists, bobblehead makers and her own Christmas cards, and instantly recognizable as an Arizona icon.

She was the embodiment of old Arizona, where Republicans and Democrats could be civil and work together. She ran a tight, efficient office and is credited with bringing stability to the state at a rough time with grace and wit.

“When the state desperately needed healing, she stepped in,” recalled Athia Hardt, who served as Mofford’s press aide when she was suddenly catapulted to the Governor’s Office following Mecham’s impeachment. She called herself “Mother Mofford,” and fulfilled that role both as a stern parent, when needed, and as a caring individual, Hardt said.

Mofford retired in 1991 after 51 years in state government, but never lost interest in state affairs. “As recently as a few months ago, she was still calling on my cell phone every so often when she saw something in the newspaper she didn’t like or about something political,” Hardt said.

Mofford started in state government as a secretary, beginning right out of high school, and then tirelessly did charity work.

She lived in the same house near Central and Maryland avenues in Phoenix for 50 years, even through three years as governor when her security detail thought she would be better off somewhere else.

It was her neighborhood, she insisted. Her Arizona. Her people. Her home number was listed, and always had been. She lived by simple rules.

“Let your word be your bond,” Mofford said often. “If you say you are going to do something, do it, and don’t make excuses.

“Be a good listener. Learn to listen and to listen to people’s suggestions. Learn from the people around you.

“And treat everyone with dignity.”

Mofford once attributed her success to her “roots, religion and Rolodex.” The Rolodex was a real one, with little paper cards she flipped through to find phone numbers and addresses, not a spreadsheet on her computer.

* * *

Mofford ran for secretary of state in 1978, 1982 and 1986 and won each time by large margins. When Mecham was removed from office in April 1988, Mofford became governor.

Mofford ran an efficient office. She was noted for being punctual, answering her own phone and replying directly to her mail.

As she had been when she was secretary of state, Mofford was accessible almost to a fault. She regularly handed out watches with her caricature on the dial to people she met. Each year, she sent out thousands of Christmas cards with a caricature of herself on the cover.

While her platinum hairdo was her trademark, she also was well-known for her quick one-liners and sense of humor. She could dish it out and take it.

In 1989 when Esquire magazine named her one of the “50 Women We Love,” Mofford, observing that she was in the company of the likes of Geena Davis and Madonna, quipped, “You know, I think I weighed more when I was born than some of these women today.”

The Democratic governor faced the challenges of a hefty state deficit, the collapse of the real-estate market and voters’ rejection of a referendum to create a paid Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, which took Arizona out of contention to host the 1993 Super Bowl.

Mofford pressed for higher bonding limits for rural highways and helped promote statewide economic development. She also helped develop a funding mechanism to keep Major League Baseball’s Cactus League in Arizona. A member of the Arizona Softball Hall of Fame, Mofford has municipal fields named after her.

She was most proud of her efforts on behalf of education, the elderly, people with disabilities and children.

Mofford’s popularity was high, but it waned in late 1989 amid questions about her commutation of two killers’ sentences.

In early 1990, she announced she would not run for re-election at the end of her term. Mofford was more comfortable with administrative tasks than partisan politics.

At a press conference back then, Mofford said she wanted to get out from under the intense public pressure so she could visit lifelong friends around the state.

“I’ve served Arizona long and hard, and I think I’ve done an outstanding job for 50 years,” a misty-eyed Mofford said then. “I feel this one I have to call for Rosie.”

Later she would say that she served as governor out of a sense of duty – her state needed her. Supporters and detractors agreed that she handled her time in office with grace and wit.

There is much more on the life of Rose Mofford in this Republic report.

“Mofford will be cremated, followed by a private burial service. A celebration of life at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Phoenix will be announced later, friends said.”

3 responses to “Arizona’s first woman governor, Rose Mofford has died

  1. the greatest governor in my 60 years here in arizona.

  2. Frances Perkins

    Aunt Rose was just a great person and dedicated to the State. She was a class act, and I was fortunate to know her.

  3. Governor Mofford, you were the epitome of class. Rest in peace.