Arizona’s first female governor, Rose Mofford, has died at age 94.
Former Mofford spokeswoman and longtime friend Athie Hardt says Mofford died Thursday morning at a hospice she entered last month after being injured in a fall.
Mofford, a Democrat, served as governor from 1988 to 1991. She was the elected secretary of state when she took over for Republican Gov. Evan Mecham, who was impeached and driven from office.
She was the first of four female governors to lead the conservative state over the next two decades, including Jane Hull, Janet Napolitano and Jan Brewer.
A native of Globe, Mofford was born Rose Perica on June 10, 1922. She worked for 51 years as a state employee, including three as governor.
Mofford was the youngest of six children born to a copper-mining family in Globe. She played first base for the Cantaloupe Queens amateur softball team in 1939, and met another softball star, Joe Hunt, who was elected state treasurer in 1940. Mofford became Hunt’s secretary in 1941, launching her career as a state employee.
After a series of state jobs, Mofford became business manager of Arizona Highways magazine for two years. She then served for 20 years as assistant secretary of state to Wesley Bolin, who had first been elected in 1949. In 1957, she married T.R. “Lefty” Mofford, a captain with the Phoenix Police Department, but they divorced 10 years later.
In 1977, while Mofford was assistant secretary of state, fate stepped in. Gov. Raul Castro resigned to become ambassador to Argentina, Bolin succeeded him, and appointed Mofford secretary of state. But Bolin died of a heart attack six months later, and because Mofford had not been elected secretary of state, she was ineligible to become governor. The position went to Attorney General Bruce Babbitt. Mofford was elected secretary of state in her own right in 1978, and re-elected in 1982 and 1986. She became Arizona’s first woman governor when Evan Mecham was impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate in April 1988.
Mofford was most proud of two accomplishments.
“Bringing stability back to the state during those trying times,” Mofford said, referring to the tumultuous period leading up to — and immediately after — Mecham’s impeachment. With her trademark beehive hairdo, a steady hand and a ready smile, Mofford was considered exactly the type governor Arizona needed at the time.
She also touted her efforts as governor to revive a struggling Cactus League, when Arizona was in danger of losing teams to Florida. A Mofford committee focused on funding methods to keep the spring-training league viable. Today, a record 15 teams conduct workouts and spring games in Arizona, while 15 remain in Florida.
Mofford did not run for a full term as governor and finished her run as a state employee in March 1991. She remained active in charitable endeavors, including an annual fund-raising reunion of some of the women who played softball a lifetime ago.
“We call it a League of Our Own,” Mofford said in a 2011 interview. “There are still a lot of us old broads around.”
Gov. Doug Ducey described the former governor as an “Arizona treasure’’ and ordered state flags lowered to half-staff in Mofford’s honor.
“Governor Mofford brought people together. Both as a governor and a former governor, she exemplified the ability of leaders to unite us—to put partisanship aside and put our country and our state first. During challenging times for our state, Governor Mofford was the steady hand that led us through and held us together,’’ Ducey said.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton added that he was deeply saddened by her passing.
“True to her rural Arizona roots, she was one of the most generous and thoughtful people I have ever known, and we will never forget her contributions to our state,” he said.
Senate Democratic leader Katie Hobbs said in a statement she mourns “with all Arizonans the loss of a true Arizona legend.’’
“Governor Mofford has always been an inspiration to me, both politically and personally. I first met Governor Mofford at Arizona Girls’ State, when I was a high school junior and she was secretary of state, and I remember how gracious she was to everyone. She gave us all small mirrors and talked to us about loving ourselves the way we are, which, coming from our state’s first female secretary of state, was very powerful to a group of teenage girls,” Hobbs said.
“With her unique blend of Arizona toughness and genuine kindness Governor Mofford not only broke historic barriers, she also healed our state after years of controversy. She was a leader who truly put the good of the people first,” she said.
Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema said Mofford “embodied the true meaning of public service – a tireless, thoughtful leader who always put the people of Arizona first.’’
-This report includes information from the Associated Press.