Through a variety of roles in social work, politics and media, Judy Corrao spent her life listening to others, grappling with a wide range of issues and working to solve them. “She wanted to make sure people had a chance to climb up and live life more fully,” said her husband, Milt Schoen. “She wanted to change the world.”
Corrao accomplished much in her 78 years before she died on Aug. 29 following surgery for injuries from a recent fall.
Corrao spent most of her life in Minneapolis, attending the University of Minnesota as a struggling single parent and graduating summa cum laude. She then devoted herself to improving the lives of others as a social worker and participant in politics.
Corrao’s introduction to politics was managing longtime DFLer Phyllis Kahn’s first campaign for state representative in 1972, a time when there was only one woman serving in the Minnesota Legislature.
Four years later, Schoen was introduced to Corrao — or, rather he “became aware of her magic qualities,” as he described their meeting — when they both worked on Jeff Spartz’s campaign for Hennepin County commissioner.
Spartz said he considered Corrao, who stood about 5 feet, a strong progressive force for decades, as well as a social dynamo. “She had a personality about twice her height,” Spartz said.
Corrao began her own stint as an elected official in 1977 and spent two terms representing the 2nd Ward on the Minneapolis City Council. Years later, she likened her departure from the council to caring for a child, telling the Star Tribune, “It’s like when you’re the parent, you’re so worried about your kid. And then you’re the grandparent and you don’t worry,” she said.
Corrao helped found two of the state’s first halfway houses and served as president of the Minnesota Social Service Association. As a social worker with Hennepin County, she organized volunteers and led community engagement activities. (Her penchant for communal planning was so ingrained that when she and Schoen prepared for their 2004 wedding, she put together a committee of friends to help her look at venues and sample food.)
Corrao also wrote a column for the Minnesota Women’s Press and, for more than 25 years, hosted “The Judy Corrao Show,” one of Minneapolis Television Network’s longest-running public-access programs.
Janet Dieterich, who spent years producing the show, described Corrao as a self-made woman and feminist. She said that while Corrao hosted plenty of political guests, she especially liked to feature women of achievement whose names weren’t necessarily well known, from lawyers to IT professionals to chefs.
Dieterich said Corrao will be remembered for being a “catalyst. That was her genius: bringing people together.”
Another longtime friend, Maryann Campo, has fond memories of the frequent get-togethers Corrao arranged at Christos Minneapolis restaurant. Though Corrao was known for her ability to command a room, Campo said, these gatherings of dozens of friends from various spheres gave people the opportunity to make their own connections. “I met terrific people through her,” Campo said. “She was a mover and shaker.”
Corrao’s positivity affected everyone in her wide social circle, said her son, Jay Corrao. “There is no one who knew her whose life was not changed for the better.”
In addition to her husband and son, she is survived by one granddaughter. Services have been held.