Margaret Farrow, then a member of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, speaking from a UW-Platteville video in 2013. Image courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville
Margaret Farrow, Wisconsin’s first female lieutenant governor, has died at 87 after nearly five decades in public service.
According to Farrow’s son, Paul Farrow, a Waukesha County executive, his mother died peacefully at home on Tuesday and was surrounded by family.
Her passing prompted remembrances and assessments by her friends, family and peers.
“I called her ‘the Margaret Thatcher of Wisconsin politics.’ She was as tough as nails, but had an inner core that was so gentle and nice,” said former Gov. Tommy Thompson and interim University of Wisconsin System president, during a WisPolitics event in Madison on Tuesday.
“I loved her dearly. Anybody that met her and got to know her loved her. She was that kind of a person,” he added.
Farrow’s nearly 50-year career began in the village of Elm Grove, where she served on the Board of Appeals and the Village Board. As president of the board, Farrow led her community through the controversial “sewer wars,” a decade-long dispute between Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and eight neighboring localities.
Thompson recalls how fiercely Farrow advocated for her constituents during the public debate. He said he was so impressed by her leadership that he called her into his Minority Leader office and encouraged her to run for state Assembly.
Farrow, a lifelong Republican, went on to serve in the Assembly and state Senate for 15 years before being appointed as lieutenant governor under former Gov. Scott McCallum in 2001. She later served on the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents before retiring in 2017.
“Every job she’s ever held was with diplomacy, distinction, a toughness and a kindness,” Thompson said. “What a classy woman she was.”
In a touching statement posted on Twitter, Paul Farrow referred to his mom as a “personal hero” who is leaving behind a legacy that has inspired his own career and the careers of others.
“She was a trailblazer. Not only because of her significant positions as a woman in what was very much a man’s world at the time, but because of the way she stood up for all of the people of our community and our state,” Paul Farrow said. “Mom leaves behind a legacy of promoting the values that make us all better citizens and better people.”
Farrow was drawn to politics in her sixth grade civics class when she learned that Wisconsin had been the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote on June 10, 1919.
Many people look to Farrow herself as a fearless leader who continued this legacy but also helped pave the way for women in Wisconsin politics.
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Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch referred to Farrow as “a mentor and friend” in a statement released Tuesday.
“Lt. Gov. Farrow was proof that strong women build remarkable legacies, are the architects of excellent policy, and leave lasting marks on history,” Kleefisch said in the statement.
When Kleefisch first announced her current run for governor, she said Farrow was one of her first endorsements.
State Senator Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said she also finds inspiration in Farrow’s career and achievements.
“Margaret was passionate, tough, honest, and kind. She believed in her community and believed in our great state. It is impossible to have met Margaret Farrow and not be encouraged and inspired by her,” Darling said in a statement released Tuesday.
But for many, Farrow’s legacy goes far beyond her gender. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, praised her leadership and dedication to the state of Wisconsin in a statement released Tuesday.
“She was a great leader who stood up for everyone in her community and represented our state with grace. She was incredibly talented and inspired many, not only because she was the first female Lieutenant Governor, but because of her long legacy of public service,” Vos said. “She has influenced people and policy, and our state is better because of her.”
Like most, Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, saw Farrow as a trailblazer.
“From her tenure as the first female lieutenant governor of Wisconsin to her time on the UW System Board of Regents, she never stopped working to move this state forward,” Steineke said in a statement on Tuesday.
Gov. Tony Evers released a statement Tuesday in which he expressed his condolences to Farrow’s family and acknowledged her “distinguished career” that will “go down in our state’s history books.”
“Former Lieutenant Governor Farrow and I served on the Board of Regents together, and I was always grateful for her perspective and her kindness,” said Evers in the statement.
Funeral arrangements are pending, but Evers said the U.S. and Wisconsin flags will be lowered in her honor.
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