"Call Tutti Sherlock." For decades, reporters like me who started their careers at the Rochester Post-Bulletin were given this bit of advice anytime they were writing about early childhood issues. As the longtime executive director of southeast Minnesota’s pioneering Child Care Resource and Referral nonprofit, Tutti Sherlock Harrington was a personable, nationally recognized expert on topics parents care deeply about: school readiness and finding quality day care.

Minnesota parents may not realize it but they owe a debt of gratitude to the longtime Rochester resident, who passed away last week at the age of 78. Her pioneering work continues to help thousands of families find good day care for their children. Her organization was one of the very first in the nation to organize and provide information for parents looking for child care. The organization also assists providers, giving them guidance on everything from making the day care safer to serving more nutritious meals.

A working mom herself, Sherlock Harrington recognized the need for this information elsewhere. She went on to play a critical role in founding the statewide Minnesota Child Care Resource and Referral Network, as well as a national organization with the same mission. Counties across Minnesota are now served by agencies like hers.

I always felt more comfortable than most Post-Bulletin reporters in making that call to Sherlock Harrington. I’d come across her organization when I hired on at the newspaper in 1991. At the time I had a pre-schooler and I needed to find a day care provider in the Goodhue County community I was moving to. The paper’s human resources director directed me to Child Care Resource and Referral. Their office provided just what I needed: a list of licensed day care providers in the area and information about them. I interviewed several, and felt good about the decision I’d made. My son’s now in college, but I’m still friends with the provider I chose long ago.

The word visionary is often overused, but Sherlock Harrington truly was one. She began her work in an era where it wasn’t common to have both parents work outside the home. But she saw the changes ahead and took commonsense steps to help families continue to thrive. I’m one of many moms grateful for her work and to have known her.