Blanchard touched many lives in Penacook and beyond

  • Lynda Blanchard Weeks thanks all the people who came to her mother's burial service on Monda at Woodlawn Cemetery. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Lynda Blanchard Weeks says goodbye to her mother, Liz, at her mother's burial service on Monday, August 10, 2020 at Woodlawn Cemetery in Penacook. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • A family member takes down a photograph of Liz Blanchard after her service at Woodlawn Cemetery in Penacook on Monday, August 10, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Lynda Blanchard Weeks (center) gets a hug from Ted Hillson as his wife, Janet talks to her before saying goodbye to her mother, Liz, at her mother's burial service on Monday, August 10, 2020 at Woodlawn Cemetery in Penacook. The Hillsons knew Liz and her husband, Al Blanchard since 1966. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Janet Hillson of Penacook says goodbye to her friend Liz Blanchard at her burial service at Woodlawn Cemetery on Monday. Janet and her husband Ted knew Liz since 1966. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • New Hampshire House Speaker Steve Shurtleff talks about his memories of Liz Blanchard at the her burial service at the Woodlawn Cemetery in Penacook on Monday.

Monitor columnist
Published: 8/11/2020 3:30:54 PM

Liz Blanchard, forever chasing goals, called herself Dizzy Lizzy, so her family began saying it, too.

Affectionately, of course.

It was more of an inside joke, a family joke, and Karen Marin was included in that inner orbit. Blanchard was like a mother to Marin and helped turn her life around.

We heard those stories and more, about the former State Representative and Concord City Councilor who was buried Monday at Greenlawn Cemetery in Penacook. Blanchard died Aug. 4 at the age of 81, living out her last few weeks at her family homestead in Boscawen.

She raised her own family in Penacook and was buried there, after retiring and moving to York Beach in Maine three years ago. She needed her children’s help near the end. They were not going to allow their mother to die in a hospital, alone.

That made it a little easier to show the pride and love they felt for Blanchard, for her public service at all levels of government, her dedication and perseverance to her community, and her unwavering desire to give back.

Marin’s memories said a lot. What Blanchard did for this troubled teen says a lot, too. Marin was a don’t-tell-me-what-to-do 15-year-old whose difficulty adjusting to authority worsened once she moved from Penacook to Franklin and attended high school there.

Blanchard, who had known Marin all her young life, saw a smart kid with potential. But she also saw a lost teen, sometimes frightened, sometimes angry, and that’s why Blanchard and her husband, the late Al Blanchard, opened their front door to Marin at their old house at 61 Washington Street. Then they opened up a bedroom door, too.

Blanchard, already with four biological children, became a foster mother to Marin, allowing her to return to Merrimack Valley High School.

“She was always trying to make me feel good and encourage me,” Marin said by phone from her home in Contoocook, shortly after the early-afternoon funeral. “She saw something special in me and that gave me confidence. They gave up a lot for me. They worked it out and made the decision as a family.”

Marin’s family.

Marin graduated from Merrimack Valley High School in 1974, after her enrollment at Franklin High had lasted just a few weeks. She recently retired after 35 years working at Caterpillar Inc.

“I remember my parents decided to become foster parents, and I remember when they brought Karen into the family,” Mark Blanchard, one of Liz’s three sons, said during his speech at the funeral. “One of the things my parents never did was judge. No matter what, (foster children) were accepted with open arms in our home, and that’s the truth, and that’s what my mother and father stood for.”

And more.

Blanchard had good reason to be self-deprecating and call herself Dizzy Lizzy. Keeping everything neatly filed away in her mind became a chore after she graduated from Penacook High School in 1957 and then the University of New Hampshire in ’85, when she earned a math degree at a time when women did not earn math degrees.

She was married to Alan Blanchard for 50 years before his death. She was a member of the Merrimack Valley School Board, the Concord City Council and New Hampshire House of Representatives from 2002 to 2010, forever safeguarding her beloved Penacook.

Also, she was a Merrimack County Commissioner, and she was named a selectwoman after she moved to York Beach, Maine, her favorite home-away-from-home through the years.

And she was more. Corina Locke lived in the old Penacook neighborhood and met Blanchard while in 5th grade. They remained close, so I wondered if Blanchard had been like a grandmother to Locke.

Sort of, she said. But not later on.

“To be perfectly honest, she was more like a very dear friend to me,” Locke said in an email. “She was a woman I could have cocktails with, gossip, tell stories and laugh with. When I was a child, she was the cool grandmother that just left us speechless. No one I knew had a cooler grandmother than Liz.

“But as an adult, I saw Liz as a mentor, a prime example of how life can and should be for a woman. Stylish, spunky, independent, confident, intelligent, full of humor and generous with her love.”

Locke was one of about 150 people, masked and socially distanced, who remembered and shared a treasure trove of snapshots.

Blanchard loved a good, old-style piano bar. She did the jitterbug with Al, and kept going after he’d died. Her mac and cheese was unreal. Her eggnog, always spiked, was delicious. She tutored not only her son, Mark, who was failing a subject in high school, but also his good friend, who was also failing. She slept at homeless shelters as a volunteer.

Once, she left the top down on her convertible during a downpour. When told, she said she’d worry about it the next morning. Once in Maine, she backed up her car without looking and nearly hit former First Lady Barbara Bush walking past.

And she guided kids. Not just her own. In fact, not just Marin, either. Foster parenting became another identifying characteristic in Blanchard’s mosaic of selflessness, as did her advocacy for at-risk children in the community and Legislature.

Not every kid she took in had a happy ending.

“Other needs were more complex,” said Jeff Blanchard, one of Liz’s three sons. “Not all foster relationships are successful, and Liz and Karen had a win-win, with mom succeeding at something and Karen benefiting from it.”

Before that happened, though, Marin said she was lost at Franklin High. Disoriented, she said she couldn’t find her classes and often stayed home, cutting school and receiving a visit from the truant officer.

“I could not function,” Marin said.

At the Blanchard house, there was trouble as well. At the beginning, “We didn’t get along the greatest at first,” Marin said.

At 15 years old, Marin and a friend ran away from home. Actually, they flew away from home, to Florida, and told no one.

“They flew me back and I stayed with them and got on the right track and turned my life around,” Marin said.

Liz and Al had four children together: Jeff, Chris, Mark and Lynda. Her 17 grandchildren called her, ‘Grammy B,’ and her 18 great-grandchildren called her ‘GiGi’ for great grammy.

There were always nicknames like that. Al called her his Classy Lassie. Blanchard called herself Dizzy Lizzy. Many names for many hats, each one colorful and full of life.

“I called her mom,” Marin said.


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