The Iowa Senate today passed a resolution honoring a former colleague who is battling cancer and is not expected to live much longer. Republican Mary Lundby of Marion was the first woman to serve as Speaker Pro Tem in the Iowa House and more recently was the first woman to serve as Co-Majority Leader in the Senate.
Lundby did not seek reelection to the senate in 2008. She had planned to run for the Linn County Board of Supervisors last November. "I wanted to blaze a trail for women so that they would run for the legislature and be elected to the legislature and seek the leadership and try to set policy," Lundby said last year, in July. "That’s a hard thing to leave behind."
But Lundby had to abandon her plans for local elected office to battle the reoccurrence of the ovarian cancer she thought she’d beaten in 2006.
Senate Democratic Majority Leader Michael Gronstal on Thursday called Lundby a champion of environmental causes. "We talked a lot about the things we care about," Gronstal said during remarks on the senate floor. "I remember she told me the real reason she ever ran for office in the first place wasn’t because she dreamed of being leader, it wasn’t because she sought power, it was because she thought she could make a different to the environment."
Lundby was a frequent sponsor of legislation that would have expanded the kinds of drink containers which are subject to the state’s five-cent deposit law that encourages recycling.
Lundby was known as a formidable competitor, something Gronstal acknowledged today. "She helped lead the Republicans in the Iowa House to the majority over there in the ’92 election, so I take this resolution up with some trepidation," Gronstal said jokingly, before turning serious. "It’s always sad to lose someone and it kind of looks like we’re going to lose Senator Lundby."
Lundby’s cancer is terminal; she is currently in hospice care in Cedar Rapids. The resolution passed in the state senate Thursday thanks her and her family for their service to the state — and it honors her for her "gentle and raucous good humor."
It was Lundby’s political instincts that Senate Republicans called upon in April of 2006 when they ousted one leader and installed Lundby as Co-Leader of the Iowa Senate. Lundby used the word "forthright" the next day when reporters asked her to define her leadership style. "Some people say in-your-face, but I don’t want to imply that," Lundby said, "but strong, determined."
Lundby was determined, as the first woman legislative leader, to bring a new perspective to backroom negotiations and remarked after her first meeting in then-Governor Tom Vilsack’s private office that it was good to have some "color" in the room since she’d worn a green pantsuit to the meeting — all the men had worn dark suits.
Earlier that year, in January of 2006, Lundby announced her doctors had pronounced her "cancer-free" after aggressive treatment of ovarian cancer. Lundby told Radio Iowa her cancer fight had changed her perspective on life.
"I had never had a lot of pain and suffering in my life…so I’ll be more compassionate to people who suffer," Lundby said in January of 2006. "I didn’t appreciate my job enough and my constituents enough and I have an entirely different attitude about the privilege of serving and my responsibility to my constituents."
Lundby said she got thousands of cards, email messages. "People prayed for me. Some prayed that I’d have a better personality, but that one didn’t come true yet," Lundby joked in early 2006. Lundby said her experience had reinforced her independence and strengthened her will.
A couple of years ago the Senate passed another resolution, naming Lundby the "whistling laureate" of the Iowa Senate. She often sat at her senate desk, whistling while she worked. Lundby, a native of Carroll, served eight years in the Iowa House and 14 years in the Iowa Senate.
Senator David Johnson, a Republican from Ocheyedan, was overcome with emotion today as he spoke of his former colleague."I remember how pointed Senator Lundby could be…cutting right to the chase of an argument, but let’s remember, too, after we honored her last year on her pending retirement she just said to us, very humbly, ‘Thanks for the memories,’" Johnson said, adding, ‘No, Mary, thank you for the memories."