Jackie Stevenson's intrigue with politics came from listening to her father, an editorial writer, and a neighbor as they talked politics while she and the neighbor's children played.

"They said they hope they were raising children who understood the need to help the have-nots in society," Stevenson said in 2002. "That's been my watchword all my life."

Stevenson, 77, a fixture at DFL state conventions for decades and a charter member of the DFL Feminist Caucus, died Sunday. She is reported to have died in her sleep.

"Jackie was my friend, my mentor and a 'mother' to so many of us," State Sen. Terry Bonoff wrote on Facebook, where Stevenson's death was announced. "When I first thought about running for the state Senate I was told in no uncertain terms, 'Talk to Jackie Stevenson. She will decide if that is a good idea.' I talked to Jackie and she was tough. ... I was a lucky one. I was 'blessed by Jackie.'"

Stevenson, of Minnetonka, was considered a DFL party leader, attending state conventions for more than 50 years. She was also a former president of the DFL Feminist Caucus.

During her decades in politics she became influential within the DFL, especially around feminist issues, according to news accounts.

"Can that party function without the feminist matriarch of Minnetonka dispensing advice, plotting strategy and mobilizing her feminist forces," Lori Sturdevant, a Star Tribune columnist and editorial writer, asked on her blog Sunday.

On her Facebook page, Sturdevant wrote that DFL conventions won't be as much fun without Stevenson's "wit and wisdom."

The news of Stevenson's death quickly spread among politicos in Minnesota. State Sen. Linda Higgins wrote that she was a mentor to many progressive men and women over the years.

"I saw her just a couple weeks ago, and she gave me great advice for my county commissioner campaign," said Higgins, who is now running for the Hennepin County Board. "I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around this."

Stevenson became involved in politics as a teenager, volunteering for U.S. Rep. Eugene McCarthy's 1952 re-election campaign. She eventually became a member of the Democratic National Committee.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

Rachel Stassen-Berger contributed to this report Heron Marquez • 952-746-3281