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'A role model for seniors, and everyone else'

Last modified: 2/8/2011 12:00:00 AM
What do the New Hampshire House of Representatives and the Republic of Sierra Leone have in common?

Strangely enough, both were arenas where Gloria Seldin worked to make the world a better place - and, in both cases, well past middle age.

Seldin, who died recently at 86, was one of those big-hearted liberals whom Concord voters regularly send to the Legislature. She was a consummate volunteer in community efforts and in politics. Her presence in town - and in legislative and presidential campaigns to come - will be missed. With luck, the example she set for seniors will live on.

Seldin was a rare combination of practical and idealistic. As an administrator for youth programs for Gov. Hugh Gallen decades ago, she figured out how to achieve significant results from New Hampshire-sized budgets. She helped young people prepare for the workforce and later managed social service programs for old people and low-income families with creativity and smarts.

At age 62, she volunteered for the Peace Corps, serving in Sierra Leone, one of the most challenging assignments on the planet, given the country's long history of poverty and warfare. There she taught residents to cultivate rice and fish for food.

In the 1990s, she ran successfully for the Legislature, where she focused on ways to improve the lot of seniors, children and the poor during three successive terms. One Seldin proposal that still sounds sensible years later: matching young families in need of housing with elderly homeowners in need of help with everyday living.

Well into old age, Seldin volunteered in a broad array of community causes. "Her strong motivation was to give back to everybody," says Rep. Mary Stuart Gile, a friend who served in the House with Seldin. Until her death, Seldin was the weekly bingo caller at Concord Hospital. In recent years she was a regular presence at Walker School, where she read to children. She volunteered for the City Auditorium, the Hospice House, the America Reads program and the Centennial Senior Center.

She was also a regular in New Hampshire presidential campaigns. An old friend, Jean Wallin, described Seldin's dedication to Fritz Mondale's campaign and to Howard Dean's. In 1992, Wallin was working for Tom Harkin and often persuaded Seldin to bring food for the troops. But secretly, Wallin said, Seldin seemed to be supporting Bill Clinton. "She never actually told me, but I knew!" Wallin said.

Best of all was the bravado with which Seldin spoke up for the causes she believed in - especially at a time when her views did not hold sway with the majority in the Legislature, or with the governor. Seldin, recalled former county attorney Katherine Rogers, did not mince words.

In explaining her position on school funding, for instance, Seldin once said: "I support the court's decision that made education an entitlement for our children. I support education funding that is fair to all taxpayers in the state. I support 'excellent' rather than 'adequate' education. In short, I support building New Hampshire's future by educating all our children."

In a year where much of the momentum on education and social policy seems headed in the opposite direction, Seldin's presence is already missed.


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