Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I started putting words together, and thoughts came tumbling out, shouting the need for the red pen of abundant editing. Introspection seems to have come easily in this, the Winter of my life.
I was born in Winnipeg, Canada in 1940 and grew up singing “O Canada!” as well as “God Save the King” and later “the Queen.” I know you watched the first season of the luscious TV series, The Crown. As a young child I spent a lot of time looking at pictures of Lilibet (Elizabeth) and Margaret Rose, their parents, the King and Queen of England, and of course the Corgis, all gracing the weekly pages of Life magazine.
I grew up in Calgary, a “cow town” before the oil boom. I was a bit of a hellion – from the ages of 4 through my teen years, but my sister told me I had kindness and a conscience. She first noticed that when I was moved to comfort her after reducing her to tears with my shenanigans. Patting her arm, I told her I wouldn’t do it (whatever “it” was) again. I recall only once she was really unkind to me when she was seventeen and I was seven. Surely it has to have been more often than I recall given my predilection for getting into trouble and trying everyone’s patience!
I graduated high school by the skin of my teeth, but graduated business school top of the heap – no Latin, no chemistry. I got a good job for a couple of years in the burgeoning Oil Patch….left for California, and after a few years returned to family in Calgary with a sweet, two-year-old daughter, Karen Elizabeth (after the Queen of course!). I was back to work again but as a single mom.
After a couple of years, I met a southern gentleman, Bill Vaughey, at the coffee cart on the 26th floor of a high rise office building in downtown Calgary. A more graceful, attentive, gentle man I would never again meet. I recall our first date was to the Calgary Stampede, and I introduced him to the intricacies of chuck wagon races!
We started married life in Havre, the three of us, in a house on Juniper Drive, which became our home for 20+ years. We were four of us when Joanna Leah was born, and the following years were filled with family and school activities and making a living in the oil and gas fields of Northcentral Montana. I worked with Bill in the business, and in the process I got to know many Hi-Line farmers and ranchers – some mighty fine people!
I made my first foray into politics working on the “Big Ed Smith” for governor campaign. I then ran a campaign for a local legislative candidate (we won) and then another (we lost but learned a lot). That candidate was a supervising nurse at our hospital – I found out the hard way that all the hospital employees weren’t registered to vote! I recall I sometime later stopped into then Senator Stan Stephens’ office asking his advice about a run for school board. He said just do it. I did just that.
Education became a big part of my life. I spent 13 years on the Havre School Board, and I served as chair and a member of that board and of the state’s School Boards’ Association (SBA) and the board of the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory in Portland. As chair, while on the SBA board, I introduced the first step in ultimately seating Indian school board members at the table.
Roger St. Pierre of Rocky Boy was first a voting member of my SBA district caucus and with two additional school board members – one from Browning and the other from Harlem – were founding members of SBA’s American Indian Caucus. The star quilt gifted to me at a Rocky Boy’s Reservation celebration reminds me of the gratifying work we did together.
While all this was going on I was enrolled at the University of Montana – Northern earning a degree in Business Education. When Joanna began preschool I had started my first class as a part-time, nontraditional student: one class 10 to 11am Tuesdays and Thursdays. I was so fortunate, being place-bound as I was, that Havre had a college. Ten years flew by too quickly (I loved my classes), and I had earned my degree!
Tragedy struck our family when Bill died suddenly in May of 1995 – Karen was in California studying for the California Bar Exam; Joanna was a sophomore at Stanford studying for finals. Karen passed the Bar, and Joanna returned to Stanford the following year, but our lives were forever changed. We grieved, we loved one another, the people of Havre put their arms around me, and in time we all carried on.
Tell us about someone who’s had a great impact on your life and why?
Former Attorney General and Governor Marc Racicot trusted me to make contributions to his administrations, first as a member of the Gaming Advisory Council and then as a member of his Renew Montana Government task force. I was living in Havre and picking up the pieces after Bill’s death when Marc offered me a position on the State Tax Appeal Board. I ignored conventional wisdom given to widows – not to make important decisions in that first year – and I embraced the opportunity that brought me to Helena. That job was followed by a six-year term as Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices. Each of these assignments pushed me way out of my comfort zone, but I welcomed the challenges.
After a stint working for the Montana Republican Party as a District Director in the 2006 election cycle, my final politically-related assignment, courtesy of Senate Majority Leader Jim Peterson, was to the Districting and Apportionment Commission. As you know, your husband Jon was my partner in this endeavor. We got to know each other pretty well given the task lasted the better part of four demanding, sometimes frustrating long years before our redistricting work was completed.
What’s a book we all need to read?
If your ancestry is Welsh or English a “must read” is not one but rather three books – my all-time favorite: the Welsh princes’ trilogy by Sharon Kay Penman, beginning with “Here Be Dragons,” followed by “Falls the Shadow,” and “The Reckoning.” My Welsh heart sang as the trilogy introduced, accompanied, then bid farewell to the “real” Prince of Wales, and delivered an understanding of how the Welsh resisted English rule for so many centuries. My thanks forever to Janice Doggett who introduced me to this gifted author of excellently researched historical fiction!
We each must have read hundreds of books that opened our eyes and hearts, introduced us to different lives and circumstances, and took us on journeys we couldn’t have imagined. That’s what’s significant and tantalizing about it isn’t it?….the immersion in new experiences, traveling with diverse people, and exploring different thoughts and wrestling with new ideas.
I have a long list of books I vividly remember reading years ago. I have just started to explore them once again, curious to learn what will resonate after an interval of 30, 40, 50 years.
A sampling: The Women’s Room (a major feminist book of the 70s); Exodus and Mila 18 (my introduction in the 50s to the atrocities of WWII and the struggles of a new nation – Israel); Of Mice and Men (an unforgettable taste of Steinbeck); 1984 and Animal Farm (will I again be intrigued?); and Slaughterhouse Five (will the passage of years finally shine a different light on Vonnegut?).
Do you have a favorite quote?
It is a favorite only because it has a historical connection to England, and it’s short and easy to recall: “A woman can never be too rich or too thin.” The content is far from profound…but it’s notable in that it’s attributable to a totally narcissistic person, Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee who became the Duchess of Windsor. She changed the course of England’s history in the late 1930s. The abdication from the throne by her future husband, King Edward VIII, was a national heartbreak and threatened to be a constitutional crisis. In retrospect, King George VI, who succeeded her husband to the throne, was the better man and provided compassion, strength, and leadership for his subjects in war-torn England of WWII.
Off the top of your head, what is one of your happiest memories?
The discovery of the Calgary Public Library! My mother realized I was hungry to read when she found me in the basement reading my father’s weight training manuals! We had little money for books. So off we went on a journey to a massive (to my young eyes) building with marble floors, brass fittings, and books….so many, many books lining the walls and in the stacks…I was awe struck in the whisper-quiet surroundings and excited by my discoveries.
I see you often around town with a group of friends. You are usually having dinner and I can only imagine the wonderful conversations taking place. Tell us about your friendships and what those women have meant in your life.
It’s so fulfilling to have good friends with whom to share life’s important moments and activities! I’m fortunate to have childhood friends I’ve kept in touch with, along with friends I made in Havre when my children were growing up. Then there are friends I’ve made here in Helena through work and in volunteer and political activities. The conversations cover life’s rewards and concerns, the wonderful city in which we live, and our families, and of course books! Our experiences together include art events, our symphony, live theater, movies, and dinners in and dinners out.
You seem like such a strong and exceedingly intelligent woman. Let’s talk about that. Have you always been so self-assured?
My goodness, what compliments Jessi! Thank you! Well this is a “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” situation! I’m laughing because I’ve always been rather shy and have had to force myself to speak to groups and even to people I don’t know well. I oft times have had to remind my reticent self that one usually learns something (usually about oneself) when taking a risk.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give your 20 year old self?
Get thyself to school woman! Immerse yourself in learning. Set goals. Dream big.
Coffee or tea?
Tea….the English varieties of my early life….Earl Grey, English Breakfast.
Chocolate or vanilla?
Chocolate . Definitely chocolate. How can one live in Helena and not adore Parrot’s? Then there’s hot chocolate. Belgian Callebaut. Butterfingers. Chocolate ice cream sodas. (ask at the Big Dipper!)
Introvert or extrovert?
Rural or urban?
Helena-sized urban, but I do love small town Montana!
Dress up or dress down?
My standard attire….casual dresses, casual jackets. Not a fan of jeans. Could learn to be if I were slim!
Cats or dogs?
Cats. Other people’s dogs. My favorite cat of all time was a smart, male, orange Persian: Augusto (purchased with $100 Christmas cash from my mother-in-law Augusta Vaughey). Oh I loved that cat! Currently have an American Shorthair Exotic – Johnny Mack Brown – that I rescued from an ethically-challenged breeder. He’s reasonable in his demands. Good company. Lost my heart to Benny (now deceased), my best friend Norma Jean Boles’ Golden Retriever.
Sunrise or sunset?
I don’t do mornings. Sunset: my energy level surges, and that’s when I love my time with friends, or working on projects.
Detailed or abstract?
Detailed to a fault, too often focusing on perfection in one small area of my life to the detriment of most everything else.
Classic or modern?
Classic all my life. Until now. I recently downsized, moved to a condo, and find myself drawn to more contemporary furnishings and accouterments.
Call or text?
Call or email. Detest my iPhone. I should ask Kev Hamm for a tutorial.
Fiction or non-fiction?
A blend – classics, historical fiction, mysteries, biographies.
Salty or Sweet?
What do you love most about Montana?
Montanans and the beauty of the land….of the plains and the mountains.
How do you handle life’s difficulties?
Prayer. Self-talk. Forgiveness.
For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
Have I been fortunate!! Every day I am thankful for my two daughters, Karen and Joanna, and the goodness each has cultivated in their life. I am thankful for my two grandchildren – and a love so deep it astonishes me. Every day I am thankful for the friendships of the people I love.
Every day I marvel at the opportunities I’ve been given. I love the United States of America that granted me the privilege of settling here 41 years ago and awarded me the rights that are earned with citizenship. From my heart: God bless America.