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Ray Duckler: Looking for the Democratic nod for president? Let me introduce Mary Louise Hancock

Last modified: 2/4/2016 6:02:25 PM
Hillary Clinton wasted no time naming someone who reflects New Hampshire’s grace and grit: Mary Louise Hancock of Concord.

Speaking to former governor John Lynch during a rally at Dartmouth College in November, the potential Democratic nominee for president is glad to have this 95-year-old political sparkplug as an ally.

“She watches everything going on in every campaign,” Clinton told Lynch. “When I started this campaign I went to see her, and I just adore being around her and listening to her. She has lots of good advice, and she started to critique me, and she is really tough.”

And funny. And sarcastic. And sharper than Donald Trump’s tongue.

“It gets around political circles that this is the place to go,” Hancock told me. “Political managers will call me and ask if I can see so-and-so, and I invite people I know and they end up coming for a visit.”

Hancock’s folksy charm, still strong as she approaches the century mark, and trailblazing career have made her a candidate’s favorite, a voter any Democrat would be proud and anxious to display as a supporter.

She was the first female state planning director in the country and the first woman and Democrat from Concord elected to the state Senate, back in the 1970s. Then she worked for the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Her politics and philosophy have a common thread: Decency.

She was a voice for affordable housing, financial assistance for single mothers, equal rights for those with disabilities, abused women and children, clean water, well-kept parks and on and on.

“Government exists,” Hancock explained, “to help people live safely, happily and profitably.”

Hancock’s messages have gotten through, enough to have created this unofficial ambassadorship. Her independent spirit can be traced back to her tomboy days of the 1920s, when Hancock threw footballs and played hockey with the boys. Her father owned a drug store on North Main Street, across from the State House, where the Barley House is today.

There, she’d enjoy coffee floats on spinning stools and watch lawmakers come in to talk shop. She fell in love with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and felt a kinship once she found out he had polio, which she suffered from as a child.

She accompanied Irene Gallen, wife of Gov. Hugh Gallen, to the White House during the Carter administration and slept in the Lincoln Room with the First Cat.

She chatted with Bill Clinton in her home in Concord when he was governor of Arkansas, sends birthday cards each year to the Clintons’s home in Westchester, N.Y., and receives thank-you notes back, on Hillary’s personal stationary. Hillary, of course, paid her a visit last spring.

Lynch stopped by Hancock’s house last week, where photos showcase her friendship with Clinton and the former New Hampshire governor. Lynch left moments before I arrived.

Lynch has been a close friend of Hancock’s since the 1970s, when the two Democrats ran in the same circles. Lynch, in fact, raised money for Hancock’s state Senate campaign, and he was in her kitchen the night she won in 1976.

“Same kitchen, same furniture,” Lynch told me at the recent Black Ice Pond Hockey Championship at White Park.

And those two flat-screen TVs in Hancock’s house, one in her living room, the other in her bedroom? Lynch gave them to her.

“She can’t get out to see the world like she once did,” Lynch said, “so we brought the world to her.”

She uses an electric wheelchair, delicately working the stick with the fingers of her right hand to turn and move, which made it easier to point out the signed pictures of Clinton and Lynch on the wall.

She sips a scotch or two each night and says she’s never been lonely, despite never marrying. “I don’t have time to get lonely,” Hancock said.

This, like every four years, is her busy season, when the first-in-the-nation primary hits the state like a swirling, slow-moving storm.

In the past, she’s hosted the Clintons, Michael Dukakis, Joe Biden, Al Gore and Jesse Jackson, all looking for some warmth, a few laughs, perhaps her blessing.

She actually began making headlines in 1959, when she sued the governor of New Hampshire, Wesley Powell, claiming he had overstepped his boundaries when he established a department of commerce.

The Supreme Court sided unanimously with Hancock. “I do speak up about things,” Hancock said. “What he was doing was illegal.”

She’s also sought after by the news media, including People magazine, Time magazine and, last April, the Boston Globe.

These days, with the primary in the stretch run, Hancock is in her glory, although she admits the back-biting by candidates and lengthy campaigns have gotten tedious.

“The candidates are eating at each other, and I’m dead sick of the ads,” Hancock said. “They spend an extreme amount of money, and the only one that’s happy, I’m sure, is WMUR.”

On Tuesday, she’ll know if her candidate won the nation’s first primary. She stays in touch with Clinton through letter writing. The former first lady said Hancock watches over her like a mother hen.

“She spent quite a bit of time telling me exactly what I needed to do to take care of myself,” Clinton told Lynch during the event at Dartmouth. “I get little hand-written notes, ‘are you getting enough sleep, do this, do that,’ so she’s just a remarkable person in every way, but also a very astute observer of human nature and politics.”

Might Hancock be invited to the inauguration should Clinton win?

“Maybe she’ll send Air Force One to get me,” Hancock said. “She said if she’s elected, I can sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom. I told her I’ve already done that.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)


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