Judy McLaughlin, mover and shaker

  • Article by: PAT PHEIFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 24, 2011 - 5:02 PM

She was influential in DFL politics and helped restore St. Paul's Ramsey Hill area and Summit Avenue.

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At a graveside service for Judy McLaughlin earlier this month, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman noted that she was taking her rightful place among the city's movers and shakers -- Alexander Ramsey, Henry Sibley, Amherst Wilder, Harriet Bishop.

McLaughlin, 66, was a behind-the-scenes powerhouse in DFL politics -- along with her late husband, Mike -- and in the preservation and reincarnation of the Ramsey Hill neighborhood. She died of chronic heart and lung disease Sept. 5.

Today, the eastern end of St. Paul's Summit Avenue is resplendent with historic homes and tiny parks. But when McLaughlin and her husband bought a derelict mansion at 275 Summit in 1971, the neighborhood was riddled with crime, and it wasn't unusual for women walking down the sidewalk to be propositioned for sex. Many of the homes were boarded up.

The couple turned Summit Manor into not only their home, but also a showplace for wedding receptions, hundreds of DFL fundraisers and a renowned annual New Year's Eve party.

Their son David, who now runs the family business, said Summit Manor plays host to about 60 wedding receptions a year, three each weekend during the high season.

McLaughlin was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and became a U.S. citizen when her family moved to Fargo, N.D. She earned a degree in political science from North Dakota State University, worked in Washington, D.C., then moved to St. Paul where she met and married Mike McLaughlin, longtime Fourth District DFL chair.

McLaughlin worked at the Legislature as administrative assistant to House Appropriations Chairman Fred Norton and later as his chief of staff when he became House speaker and majority leader.

The McLaughlins encouraged Paul Wellstone to run for the U.S. Senate in 1990 and campaigned for him. Their son, Will, 23, an aide to Wellstone, was among those who died with the senator in an Oct. 25, 2002, plane crash in northern Minnesota.

The very next day, Judy McLaughlin stood on the steps of the Cathedral of St. Paul with thousands of others who had come to rally for peace. Wellstone was supposed to speak at the event.

"She knew that no cause worth fighting for could die with the death of a few," Coleman said in his eulogy. "She had to be there in spite of the immense agony she felt."

McLaughlin had always loved historic preservation, "and when she was at the Legislature, she helped push through the state statute that created historic districts and communities," said Mark Voerding, a family friend.

She was tireless in her work to save and restore the historic homes on Summit near the cathedral and in recruiting others to do the same.

"She certainly was personally committed to preservation, but she drove everybody else to just do better, be better, do more," said Denise Beigbeder, a longtime neighbor who became part of McLaughlin's extended family. "She really strongly believed in giving back.

"She served on the Ramsey Hill Association board in a number of different capacities, from president to chair of the sanitation committee," Beigbeder said. "She was always there, ready to pitch in."

David McLaughlin said his mother never liked to let on that she was sick. Until recently, she still delivered Meals on Wheels every Thursday, he said.

Said Beigbeder, "She worked in the background of so many things. I don't know that there was much in St. Paul that she didn't touch at one time or another. But I don't think she necessarily got credit for it."

David McLaughlin said above all, his mother loved her family, which extended well beyond her own brood, and savored every minute they could spend together in St. Paul or at the family's cabin on School Section Lake near Kimball, Minn.

Besides her son David, survivors include her mother, Erin Moir; two other sons, Michael and Terrance; four daughters, Barbara McLaughlin Lasser, Carol McLaughlin, Catherine McLaughlin and Pat Salay; two sisters, Donna and Rita Moir; two brothers, Brian and Andy Moir, and eight grandchildren.

Pat Pheifer • 612-673-7252

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