Joel Quie used to tease his mother by saying, “Turn around, Mom, and let me see your wings.”
Though the wings were imaginary, Gretchen Quie often seemed angelic to those who knew her through a life rich in teaching, generosity, art and public service as the wife of former Congressman and Gov. Al Quie.
She died at her home in Minnetonka on Dec. 13 at age 88 after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease.
She was born in Iowa, where her parents were schoolteachers and administrators. The family moved to Minneapolis when she was an adolescent, and she grew up in south Minneapolis. A talent for art emerged early.
“One of key things about her life is she was an artist from childhood,” Joel Quie said. “She was gifted.”
She studied art at St. Olaf College, where she met and married a fellow student and farmer, Al Quie. They moved to his family’s farm near Nerstrand, Minn., where she learned how to be a farm wife.
Despite having four children, a huge garden and all the chores of a busy farm, she never gave up her painting and pottery, her son said. One of his favorite family photographs shows her feeding the four kids at the kitchen table, surrounded by prints by favorite artists like Rembrandt and Van Gogh taped to the wall.
In 1958, Al Quie won a seat in Congress, and the whole family moved to Silver Spring, Md., where their fifth child was born. While following the tumult of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, she was able to keep up her artwork in a house that always smelled of paint and turpentine, Joel Quie said.
“She had a wonderful social conscience,” he said. “She always cared for the outsider and the downtrodden, and she had an amazing faith in Jesus.”
Her faith was often a source of inspiration. She organized a guild for women in the arts at her congregation in Silver Spring, and together they created murals, stained glass and other art for the church.
Al Quie was elected governor of Minnesota in 1979, and the family moved to the official residence in St. Paul. She soon opened it up to the public through a popular radio program she called, “Night at the Mansion.” With the help of Boone and Erickson, WCCO’s popular radio hosts, she and her staff organized lotteries for whimsical categories — people whose phone number ended in 3, siblings who were both teachers, someone over 50 who had never left the state. The winners would share dinner with the Quies and then spend a night at the mansion.
The Quies also made a home for a Vietnamese refugee family in a renovated carriage house to set a welcoming example for the state.
When Al Quie retired from office in 1983, they moved to Minnetonka, where she continued an active life as an artist and as a member of Minnetonka Lutheran Church. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 10 years ago, and her husband became her primary caretaker, Joel Quie said.
“Here is the big, strong statesman and outdoorsman — and he totally embraced this new role of being soft and tender,” Joel Quie said.
Even in her illness, Gretchen Quie continued to teach.
“Slowing down, just hanging out and being kind and gentle — she continued to help us with that,” he said.
Gretchen Quie is survived by her husband, Al Quie; her brother, John Hansen of Eden Prairie; five children, Fred Quivik of Houghton, Mich., Jennie Coffin of Fairfax, Va., Dan Quie of Greenfield, Minn., Joel Quie of Eden Prairie, and Ben Quie of St. Paul; as well as 14 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.