Bridget Cronin was looking through the local paper in September 2003 when she saw that filings were closing for the Inver Grove Heights school board. Though her family had only recently moved to the city, she wanted to run.
"We barely [met] the legal requirements" to file, Tony Sutton, Cronin's former husband, said he told her. "But she filed, and worked her butt off door-knocking, and beat an incumbent and got elected to the school board. She had a real passion."
Cronin, 50, of St. Paul, a former Republican Party operative who ran a nonprofit dedicated to helping veterans, died March 17 at Regions Hospital in St. Paul after falling in her bathroom and injuring her head.
"Bridget was a passionate advocate and an incredible person," Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., said in a statement. "She touched the lives of all those who encountered her. Her work to provide art therapy to veterans was inspiring and will leave a lasting legacy."
"She was kind of everywhere in the world of politics, at least on the Republican side," said Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, a former GOP gubernatorial candidate and party official. "She was very passionate about whatever she was doing, whether it was a political issue, or helping veterans and running a nonprofit."
Cronin, who grew up in Kimball, Minn., was hired by Sutton — then executive director of the state Republican Party — as the party's communications director in 1999 after working on numerous campaigns.
"She was very effective," Sutton said. "She was a very articulate person who was smart when it came to messaging," adding that she had pioneered electronic communications for the state party.
"She was always full of public service and energy," said former House Speaker Marty Seifert. "She did have a spark about her, and certainly a recognizable spark was seen anytime she was walking in a crowd."
When her son Keiran, now 23, was diagnosed as a child with developmental disabilities and autism, Cronin started working with a parent group called Families for Effective Autism Treatment (FEAT). She threw herself into research and advocacy for the group, lobbying at the State Capitol for legislation to help families with kids with autism.
"Oftentimes she knew more than the doctors" treating their son, Sutton said. "Bridget being Bridget, it became more than treating Keiran. It became about all the kids with autism and how she could help them."
Sutton and Cronin for several years co-owned the Baja Sol Restaurant Group in the Twin Cities. She served on the Inver Grove Heights school board for more than 10 years before leaving in 2014 during her third term.
She then became executive director of Ars Bellum, a nonprofit she founded to use art therapy to help veterans suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder. Cronin's father was a World War II Navy veteran. It was a project, Sutton said, about which she was as enthusiastic as any she had worked on.
In a Facebook post, DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin wrote of Cronin: "When we did talk politics it was about our veterans and ways in which we all could do a better job helping those who served our country. She was fiercely devoted to her family and was well respected by all who had the good fortune to cross her path."
Besides her son, Cronin is survived by daughters Maggie, Olivia and Molly; her mother, Lillian; sisters, Colleen Shin and Kate Seckinger; and brother, Patrick. A funeral mass will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. John Vianney Catholic Church, 789 17th Av. N., South St. Paul, with visitation at the church an hour before the service.