In Memoriam: Carolyn Warner (Updated)


It is with great sadness I have to post that a cherished member of the Democratic Party family has passed away. Carolyn Warner was one of the nicest, warmest and funniest people you would ever meet. She will be greatly missed.

The Arizona Republic reports, ‘She was a giant’: Education leader Carolyn Warner dies at 88:

Carolyn Warner, an education leader and advocate who nearly became Arizona’s first female governor, died of cancer Tuesday.

She was 88.

“Arizona has lost an icon,” Phoenix Mayor Thelda Williams said in a statement Wednesday. “A trailblazer in her own right — Carolyn Warner leaves a legacy of tireless dedication and advocacy for public education that will always be remembered.”

The chairwoman and founder of Corporate Education Consulting began her political career nearly 50 years ago as a Phoenix Union High School District board member. The mother of six said she was approached to run after moving to Phoenix from Oklahoma in 1953.

She became the first non-educator elected as state superintendent of public instruction, a post she held for 12 years. She ran for U.S. Senate in 1976 but lost the Democratic primary to Dennis DeConcini.

A decade later, Warner became the second woman in Arizona history to win her party’s nomination in the governor’s race, only to lose in the general election to Republican Evan Mecham.

As the Arizona Capitol Times explains:

Carolyn Warner, who died Tuesday, could have been the first woman governor of Arizona if it weren’t for Bill Schulz.

And the state would have been spared the political wounds of having to impeach and convict a sitting governor.

The 1986 gubernatorial race came as incumbent Democrat Bruce Babbitt chose to focus his energies on a bid for president. Warner became the party’s nominee, with Mecham becoming the GOP standard-bearer after defeating House Majority Leader Burton Barr in a bitter primary.

But then Democrat Bill Schulz, who had run for U.S. Senate in 1980 against Barry Goldwater, decided he wanted a shot at the state’s top office. So he became a political independent and poured $2.2 million of his own cash on the race, a huge amount at the time.

The result was that Mecham picked up 343,913 votes against 298,986 for Warner — and Schulz tallying 224,085.

After losing the general election in 1986, Warner, who had been state school superintendent, said she thought that Arizona just wasn’t ready for a woman to be the state’s chief executive.

Research conducted by Heidi Osselaer, a historian and Arizona State University professor, suggested she was right.

“Although many prejudices against female officeholders in Arizona had been laid to rest by the 1980s, women still faced stiff resistance when it came to the office of governor,” Ossalaer wrote in “Winning Their Place: Arizona Women in Politics.”

“Business and political leaders were unhappy with Warner’s selection and encouraged Democratic businessman William Schulz to enter as an independent, which split the Democratic vote.”

About 40 percent of voters supported Mecham, about 34 supported Warner and about 26 supported Schulz.

“Warner had difficulty raising funds for her campaign and narrowly lost,” Ossalaer wrote. “Ironically, Warner’s loss would set the stage for the first woman to become Arizona’s governor just two year later.”

When Mecham was impeached after facing charges of obstruction of justice and misuse of government funds, then-Secretary of State Rose Mofford took his place in the Governor’s Office.

* * *

Felecia Rotellini, Arizona Democratic Party chairwoman, similarly described Warner as a mentor in a statement Wednesday.

“Carolyn had a contagious love of politics, and conveyed her beliefs and Democratic values through her exceptional speeches,” Rotellini said. “She championed the life-altering power of education and dedicated her life to the children of Arizona and to improving our public schools.”

Athia Hardt, who reported for The Arizona Republic in the 1970s, recalled covering Warner’s school-board meetings at a time when “Carolyn and I would be the only two women in the room.”

Decades later, Hardt remembered Warner giving speeches that inspired many in education.

She also recalled her impeccable wardrobe and spectacular Christmas parties.

Deborah Dillon, who worked on Warner’s 1976 Senate campaign, described Warner as the matriarch of her family, supporting her children at every turn and instilling in them values of service and giving.

“All of her grandchildren revered her,” Dillon said. “Her daughters and her son, Steven, were her rocks.”

At 88, Warner was still flying around the country, sharing her book and speaking about education. She recently flew to the Tribeca Film Festival to support her grandson.

Given her stamina, Warner’s illness took everyone by surprise, Dillon said.

Fred DuVal, Democratic nominee in the 2014 gubernatorial election, said in a Facebook post that he visited Warner the day before she died.

“She was full of her unique sparkle,” he wrote. “We recapped our Oklahoma football, gossiped about politics and recounted our first campaign trips on her 1974 campaign.”

DuVal said Warner “passionate about her state, her politics and her friends,” and he “cherished being among them”

“RIP dear Carolyn,” he wrote. “We have lost a great.”

There is no information yet on a public memorial service for Carolyn Warner. I will update this post later.

Carolyn Warner was currently serving as National Committeewoman for the Arizona Democratic Party. Her death leaves a vacancy which will be filled by an election at the next Arizona Democratic Party state committee meeting in January.

UPDATE:  Here is Carolyn Warner’s obituary.

A memorial service for Carolyn Warner will be celebrated at the First United Methodist Church (at Central and Missouri in Phoenix) at 1:30 PM on Thursday, October 25.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution to:

The Arizona Educational Foundation (Attn. Executive Director) 6155 E. Indian School Rd., #106 Scottsdale, AZ 85251 (Or link to (Please indicate “Carolyn Warner Memorial” on your check or on-line contribution. Funds will be used for scholarships for Career and Technical Education students and other worthy student recipients.

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