Positivity like Mary Ann Knowles’s would stand out in any field, but in politics, the New Hampshire state representative’s demeanor was incredibly special, colleagues recalled.
“We focus sometimes on the loudest, most negative voices,” said Mike Vlacich, a New Hampshire Democratic operative. “She offered us something positive and really inspiring.”
Knowles, 70, died Feb. 6 after being diagnosed in late December with a second case of cancer, according to her family.
Then-Senator John Kerry spoke of Knowles in his 2004 speech at to the Democratic National Convention, illustrating the importance of accessible health care.
“What does it mean when Mary Ann Knowles, a woman with breast cancer that I met in New Hampshire, had to keep working day after day right through her chemotherapy, no matter how sick she felt, because she was terrified of losing her family’s health insurance?” Kerry asked, according to a Globe report at the time. “America can do better.”
Knowles lived in the Boston area before moving to New Hampshire. She grew up in New Jersey, and lived in St. Louis awhile. She was elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives in 2006, 2008, and 2012, serving the 37th Hillsborough District.
“She was tough,” said Vlacich, “It’s hard to remain positive in the way that she did, given the adversity she faced with her health, but she just kept working harder than ever.”
Indeed, her dogged work ethic was matched only by her kindness, colleagues said.
Fellow state Representative Steve Shurtleff recalled Knowles’s gift for listening.
“Whenever you talked to her, you were the most important person in the room,” he said.
Knowles leaves her husband of 32 years, John, and son, Michael.
Knowles, an animal lover, became an elephant enthusiast when the couple visited the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Kenya, according to her husband.
John Knowles said the two met while working in Boston, then moved together to Hudson in 1990. Friends and colleagues described them as inseparable.
In more than two decades, “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen them apart,” said Vlacich.
Her many activist causes included a successful push for public kindergarten in New Hampshire, a stand against the Circumferential Highway that would have cut through Hudson, service on the town’s public library committee, and the creation of the Hudson Senior Center, according to her husband.
“Mary Ann is the kind of person who makes politics worthwhile,” said Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party. “She was in it for all the right reasons.”Nicole Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.