Mary Stuart Gile, Concord representative and community pillar, dies at 83

  • Democratic Rep. Mary Stuart Gile and Sen. Dan Feltes, both of Concord, testify in support of House Bill 628, a state-run family leave program. Monitor file

  • Mary Stuart Gile, Candidates for State Representative, Merrimack 11

  • Rep. Mary Stuart Gile (right) attends a ceremony passing on Senate Bill 1, a paid family and medical leave bill. Gile had championed a similar program since 2000 before her retirement in 2018. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 10/16/2019 6:38:11 PM

Mary Stuart Gile, a fixture of the Concord community and New Hampshire State House, was a lifelong advocate of education and reforms to children and family law. 

Gile, a Democrat who first entered state politics in 1995, carved a legacy in the Legislature as a cross-party lawmaker with a focused eye on certain priorities, including a 20-year effort to press for statewide paid family and medical leave. But she was also known in Concord as an educator, a mentor, and an avid choir singer.

Gile died Tuesday after a battle with cancer, according to her husband, Bob. She was 83.

“She had a huge heart,” said Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, a fellow Concord legislator and longtime friend. “She was really so compassionate and very easy to talk to. She really did a lot of good in this world. And she cared a lot about people.”

A graduate of McGill University in 1957 and later the University of New Hampshire in 1971, Gile, who earned a doctorate in education, was intimately involved in education efforts. She taught kindergarten in Concord, worked at the New Hampshire Technical Institute, and served in the Department of Education at various points of her career.

Yet it was personal experiences that eventually propelled her to seek state office. At one point the sole caregiver for her mother, she was forced to give up her job at the Department of Education in the 1990s to devote closer attention to the medical needs of her family. That and other real-world scenarios helped drive her to run for office, with an eye toward improving New Hampshire’s family leave policies.

She had “a dedication to young children and her real feeling that young children – it should be a joyous time of life,” said Wallner, a Democrat. “She loved talking about young children and play, and how much children learn when they’re playing.”

In office, Gile made friends across the aisle, imbuing routine hearings with a warm smile and trademark positivity. She helmed the Committee on Children and Family Law in Concord, sat on the Education Committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures, and took part in a range of task forces and committees throughout her life.

She worked at reforming early childhood education, too, including creating a voluntary credential for childcare workers to improve care.

She kept at her signature goal of securing statewide paid family and medical leave, even after retiring from public office in 2018. Since 2000, she pressed the effort advocating study committees, commissions, models and actuarial analyses.

“She never gave up,” Wallner said. “I can tell you that.”

One effort to get that done, House Bill 628, died in the Senate in after clearing the Republican House. A second, Senate Bill 1, cleared both chambers and was vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu earlier this year – the farthest the effort has traveled.

In a 2018 letter to the Monitor announcing her retirement, Gile called her time in the State House a “special privilege.”

“For the record, the journey over the last two decades has been an incredible learning experience,” she wrote. She left the body, she noted, with “mixed emotions.”

Gile left a mark among fellow Democrats outside of the State House, too. Ahead of elections she pushed fellow Concord lawmakers to campaign hard, sweeping the streets door to door to press for votes.

“I don’t think I would have been elected if it wasn’t for Mary Gile, to tell you the truth,” said House Speaker Steve Shurtleff, of Penacook, who first ran in 2004. “I thought I was back in the military, because that campaign was so well organized.”

On Wednesday, Shurtleff and other Concord legislators paid tribute to her 22-year career. In a statement, Sen. Dan Feltes praised her, saying Gile “paved the way on critical issues, including paid family and medical leave.”

Feltes, a Concord Democrat, was in recent years an ally of Gile’s in that effort. “Mary Stuart Gile was a trailblazing champion for children and families, a dear friend and colleague, and a mentor to me and so many,” he said. “... Her strong belief in public service, community, and the common good is an example to us all.”

Shurtleff called attention to what he said was her consistency, matched with a talent for steering bipartisan compromises through the years.

“The things that she pushed for will be on the books forever, because of Mary Gile,” Shurtleff said.

For Bob Gile, one word captured everything.

“Her license plate was CARE,” he said in a brief interview Wednesday. “And I think that was pretty much a symbol of her life. And the care was particularly directed toward children, I think, but also society in general.”

The Gile family plans to hold a memorial service Nov. 2, Bob Gile said.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, 369-3307 or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)




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