As chief lobbyist for Planned Parenthood in Minnesota, Connie Perpich understood the organic way that laws are drafted and passed. “I’ve never met anyone who was as persistent as Connie Perpich,” said Sarah Stoesz, the boss for Planned Parenthood in several states.
“I watched her at the Capitol, walking through the halls, chatting with one person or another, not necessarily about our issues but getting a sense of who they were, what they were thinking about and what mood they were in,” Stoesz said. “She took all that information and she made a stew out of it so she could sense what was going on in St. Paul, and where the semicolons and commas should be.”
Perpich, who died Sunday at 69 after fighting melanoma, was the organization’s frontwoman for 26 years at the Capitol. She resisted restrictions on legalized abortion while pressing to expand health care access. She devised a program that gave low-income women without insurance the ability to access contraceptive information and services.
Her statutory accomplishments deserve a statue, Stoesz said. “She trusted women to make the best decisions for themselves.”
It wasn’t always easy for the Hibbing native working as a point person on a hot-button issue like abortion. “She grew up Catholic. We have nuns and priests in the family. It was very controversial,” said sister Kelley Stoneburner. Her brother-in-law, Gov. Rudy Perpich, personally opposed abortion, although he supported money for family planning.
Her father, Thomas Motherway, was a cop and police chief in Hibbing. She played a big role as the eldest sibling when he remarried and she gained six new siblings in five years. “She was our amazing big sister all our lives,” Stoneburner said.
She lived in Europe as a young woman, returning to earn a master’s degree in German literature from the University of Minnesota. She retained a lifelong interest in international affairs, collaborating on a program at the university’s Center for European and German Studies that fosters policy exchanges with Germany on health care, energy and education.
Perpich was hired as an administrative assistant to the Senate Health Welfare and Corrections Committee, spending three sessions as a legislative staffer. She married Sen. George Perpich, a member of the committee, in 1980. Her sister remembers her as a woman who loved travel, cooking, gardening, foreign films, and mystery novels.
“She was this consummate networker and this person who could bring people together across the aisle,” said Sabine Engel, a friend and collaborator at the center. “She belongs to this exceptional cohort of women who have transformed the public space for women in Minnesota.”
As a lobbyist, her sister said, “Both sides liked her … She could find common ground without giving away her ideals.” She could also be irreverent. Connie Lewis, a Planned Parenthood executive, recalled Perpich regaling co-workers with details of her conversations briefing legislators about sexually transmitted diseases. “But she always did it with a twinkle,” Lewis said.
Besides her father, of Little Canada, and her sister, of Mendota Heights, she is also survived by her husband, of Shoreview; brothers, Patrick Motherway, of Tonka Bay, and Michael Motherway, of Chicago; sisters Kate Ritzer, of Roseville, Mary Voigt, of Mendota Heights, and Gail Wester, of San Diego, and a step-grandson.
A Friday visitation will be held from 5-8 p.m. at Roseville Memorial Chapel, 2245 Hamline Av. N., and also at 10. m. Saturday at St. Albert the Great, 2836 33rd Av. S., where a memorial service will follow at 11.