Just a few years ago when running for re-election, I asked two longtime friends if they would co-host a fundraiser reception for me. Although out of politics for many years, both immediately said yes. Former Secretary of State Susan L. Farmer and former Senate Minority Leader Lila M. Sapinsley were the co-hosts of an event at the NYLO hotel. I am sure some new to our state might have wondered who they were.
For longtime Rhode Islanders, though, Susie Farmer, the first woman elected to statewide office, was a familiar public figure. Yet, she was so much more than the first female Secretary of State. She was also principled, trusted and a tireless advocate for the underdog.
Angry over the Vietnam War, she helped lead Pete McCluskey’s upstart campaign to deny Richard Nixon the Republican nomination. She advocated for changes to make Providence a Home Rule Charter community and, in doing so, helped establish separation of powers and transparency in government and ensured all could have equal access to their elected officials.
As Secretary of State, she uncovered many problems and pushed for reform. She was unafraid to do the work necessary to make things right. Tackling issues head on, and getting Rhode Islanders to care about them, was one of her strong suits. I will never forget the press conference where, standing in front of a run-down, abandoned housing complex, she brought to light numerous instances of voter fraud, including many people who were still voting from the complex’s address. It was vintage Susie.
Throughout her years in public service, and in the days since her death earlier this week, the word trailblazer has been used repeatedly to describe Susie Farmer.
It’s more than being a trailblazer, though. As Susie knew – and showed us all so well – it is in setting forth on the right path, working hard, and doing the right thing that you will blaze a trail.
What wonderful lessons she taught us. And what a great legacy she leaves to her husband, her daughters and the people of Rhode Island. Susie Farmer will be missed.