Longtime Idaho state legislator Marguerite McLaughlin died in Orofino on Thursday at 91.

Friends and colleagues remember her as a fierce advocate for education and public health services, as well as for economic opportunity.

“She was a Democrat who fought for the people who packed a lunch bucket to work. She understood people needed a job to feed their families,” said former Grangeville Sen. Ron Beitelspacher, who served six terms in the Idaho Senate, including five alongside McLaughlin.

“Lots of people can get a lot of press, but Marguerite was about getting stuff done,” Beitelspacher said. “She was one of the most effective legislators there ever was in Idaho. If she’d been in the majority, the state capital would be in Orofino.”

Beitelspacher was always impressed with McLaughlin’s ability to get legislation approved, without her “fingerprints” being apparent.

“She and I sat next to each other (on the Senate floor),” he said. “I’d read some bill that came over from the House, with a Republican sponsor, and it would be her bill. I’d turn to her to say something and she’d tell me, ‘Shh! You keep your mouth shut.’ ”

McLaughlin was one of the longest-serving lawmakers in Idaho history. She served two terms in the House, from 1979-82, followed by nine terms in the Senate, from 1983-2000. She served as Senate minority leader for part of that time, and also served on the joint budget committee.

Among her accomplishments was securing funding for new construction at State Hospital North in Orofino, as well as working with another Orofino native, Gov. Cecil Andrus, to expand state public school support to include kindergartens.

McLaughlin and her district seat-mate, Rep. Charles Cuddy, were the last two Democrats elected to the Legislature from Clearwater County.

“She was a great, great lady,” Cuddy said. “To me, the thing that stands out the most about Marguerite was, no matter which side of the aisle or which (chamber in the Legislature), she was very highly respected. You can’t say more than that about a person. She was a dandy.”

McLaughlin grew up in Michigan and moved to Idaho after marrying her husband, Bruce, in 1947. They operated their own family logging firm; she also worked as a school teacher.

In addition to her service in the Idaho Legislature, she served five years on the Orofino School Board, served on the boards of the Clearwater Valley Hospital and St. Mary’s Hospital prior to their consolidation, and served on the state Board of Environmental Quality.

After retiring from the Legislature, McLaughlin also served 10 years on the Orofino City Council.

“I think I can contribute to it, and I enjoy it,” she said in a 2011 election story. “It keeps me involved in government issues, so I can be very helpful.”

Former Clearwater County Commissioner Don Ebert said McLaughlin did a tremendous amount of good for her community. She also offered him guidance and support — but she wasn’t afraid to let him know when he strayed off course.

“Sometimes I’d see her walking toward me and she’d start shaking her finger. Then I’d know I did something wrong,” he said.

Cuddy’s daughter, Clearwater County Auditor Carrie Bird, also recalls McLaughlin’s finger-wagging.

“ ‘I’ll tell you,’ she’d say, shaking her finger,” Bird said. “You always knew what she thought and what she felt, but she could tell you in a way that you’d still be friends. She was quite the lady.”

McLaughlin called Bird just a few days ago, shaking her finger one last time.

“She said, ‘You better keep everyone down there at the courthouse in line, or I’ll be disappointed,’ ” Bird said. “I think she knew. She was sending a message. I loved her a lot, and I’m sorry to see her go.”

Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.

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