Friday, November 14, 2008

Catherine Baker Knoll, Senior Servant

Catherine Baker Knoll, the Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, died on Wednesday evening, November 12, 2008, after a 4-month battle with neuroendocrine cancer, according to news reports, including "Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll dies" (11/12/08) by Tom Barnes, published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll, the first woman ever elected to the state's second-ranking post, has died, the governor's office announced tonight.

Mrs. Knoll, 78, had battled a rare form of cancer. She died at 6 p.m. at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C., according to Mary Isenhour, executive director of the Democratic State Committee.

Gov. Ed Rendell said he and his wife, Midge, "mourn the passing of one of the strongest, most dedicated public servants in Pennsylvania's history."

Even as she was fighting cancer, he said, "she remained upbeat and dedicated to serving the commonwealth. Catherine was a very passionate and exuberant advocate for many worthy causes." * * *
While serving as Pennsylvania's State Treasurer for two consecutive four-year terms (1989-1997), she started the Pennsylvania TAP program (Tuition Account Program), created the PA Treasury Investment Center, and started a partnership with the Pennsylvania Home Builders Association and Pennsylvania community banks to build affordable housing in Pennsylvania. See also: Knoll's Biography posted on the Lieutenant's Governor's website; and NNDB Mapper for "Catherine Baker Knoll."

Catherine Baker Knoll was sworn in as Pennsylvania's 30th Lieutenant Governor on January 21, 2003, when she was 72 years old (born 09/03/30), as the first woman to hold that office. She was reelected in November, 2006, when she was 76 years old.

She demonstrated that a woman in Pennsylvania (with a Roman Catholic faith)
could rise to a high elective office in later life, even after prior political defeats and public controversies. As a feisty politician, she continued to change the state where she was born, was educated, had worked, and lived all her life. See: Catherine Baker Knoll: Slideshow, posted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

On the website of the
Office of the Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, a photograph of Knoll's smiling face appears above a press release now announcing the reactions of public officials to her death. Such testaments by her peers to her life's accomplishments are impressive.

But, as this Commonwealth enters a mourning period after her passing, I am likewise impressed about sentiments expressed by non-public people -- common folks -- who knew her also as a peer -- as a person, and a feisty person at that.

On the
SmartTalk radio program broadcast by WITF-FM (Harrisburg, PA) on the morning of Thursday, November 13th on the topic "Remembering the life and career of Lieutenant Governor Catherine Baker Knoll" (MP3, 1 hour), at least two callers told stories about her passionate, proud participation in the annual motorcycle rally from the State Capitol in Harrisburg, to Gettysburg, to raise funds for the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association.

At those events sponsored by
A.B.A.T.E. (Alliance of Bikers Aimed Towards Education) of Pennsylvania, she didn't just make an appearance, or only make a speech; she rode the entire course with those burly bikers as a passenger on a State Police motorcycle driven by a State Trooper, at the head of the column (see photo above, taken on May 25, 2006).

At the 2006 motorcycle rally, she was 75 years old, riding on a road-bike in a windbreaker, smiling.

The Press Release on the Lieutenant Governor's website ended with her words, written near the end of her life in a letter sent to President-elect Obama after his win in the November 4th election.

She still looked forward:

"You inspired millions of Americans by putting your signature on a chapter of history that was waiting to be written. In doing so, you also sent a signal to the world that once again America has a smile on its face, that we intend to be as friendly as we are firm."

"I am proud of our Pennsylvania voters for standing tall when they were needed the most. In the years just ahead, I want our Commonwealth to fulfill your hope --- that we be neither a red state nor a blue state, but rather a state united by our passion for a better America."