COLUMBIA — After two decades in Missouri politics, Mary Still was ready to slow down. With her children out on their own and an option for early retirement, Still, 54, decided it was time to start the next chapter of her life.
Maybe, she thought, she'd spend more time on the tennis court or traveling with her family. Or maybe she'd just enjoy unwinding in Columbia, jogging, working with her congregation at Missouri United Methodist Church and entertaining friends at home. In any case, a low-key retirement sounded pretty enticing.
Then, 25th District State Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, announced her intention to run for Congress. Still's plans changed.
"When I heard there was an opening in this district ... . Well, I know the issues, I know the community, I know all the parents and the children," Still said. "I thought to myself: If this is something I can do, I should do it."
With her extensive work in communications and politics, Still has a resumé that reflects her connections in Jefferson City. Most recently, she served as policy adviser to Attorney General Jay Nixon, but Still also worked for 10 years as Nixon's communications director, 2½ years as former Gov. Bob Holden's communications director and eight years as director of the MU News Bureau.
"In the '80s, I had a fundraiser for Jay Nixon when he was running against John Danforth (for U.S. Senate)," Still said. "In 1992, when he ran for attorney general, he called and asked me to apply for his director of communications."
RESIDENCE: 2000 Country Club Drive
PERSONAL: 54. Married to Russell Still. They have two daughters.
PARTY AFFILIATION: Democrat
CAMPAIGN WEB SITE: marystill.com
OCCUPATION: Retired, former policy director for Attorney General Jay Nixon.
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in journalism from MU, 1976.
BACKGROUND: Also worked as director of communications for former Gov. Bob Holden, as director of communications for Nixon and as director of the MU News Bureau. She is head of the administrative council at Missouri United Methodist Church, a former Girl Scout troop leader and a member of the Blind Boone Foundation. She enjoys tennis, cooking and the occasional jog.
WHAT’S THE JOB
There are 163 members of the Missouri House of Representatives, which works in conjunction with the Missouri Senate to pass legislation and craft annual state budgets, subject to the approval of the governor. The General Assembly convenes in early January and continues its session through May. It occasionally reconvenes in September to reconsider either vetoed bills or bills strongly advocated by the governor but not passed in regular session. Representatives earn $31,351 per year and receive daily expense allowances and reimbursements for mileage to and from the Capitol.
MORE ON THE WEB
To hear an audio Q&A and to view video of Democratic candidate Mary Still, go to ColumbiaMissourian.com. The Missourian was unable to get audio and video of Republican Ryan Asbridge, who has been deployed overseas by the Navy. You can also find additional election content at smartdecision08.com.
Still agreed to work for Nixon and started some of the most difficult work she'd ever seen.
"It was very demanding work," she said. Still was not only coordinating the efforts of 250 attorneys, she was also raising a family.
"I had two young children at home, and I still came home with work," Still said. "But I got through it. There are so many smart, smart people that work in that office, and it gave me contacts throughout the state."
Those who have worked with Still say her commitment to her work and public service is one of her most admirable traits.
"Mary's one of those types of people; on an average day she'll give you 110 percent," Holden said. "There is no one more tenacious than Mary, and I say that with affection."
Still's colleague and longtime friend Jane Dueker agreed. Now a lawyer in St. Louis, Dueker served as assistant attorney general for Missouri, as Holden’s chief legal counsel and then his chief of staff. She has known Still since 1992 and worked with her in the attorney general and governor's offices.
"She's extremely bright, she's a committed public servant, and she's been a great role model for me and for her daughters," Dueker said of Still. "She is phenomenal at her job. When she takes on a task, she does everything that needs to be done to get that task done."
Dueker also admires Still's wit and organized mind. She recalled one story that she described as "quintessential Mary," from the days when the two worked long hours together for Holden.
"My office was right off the governor's portico," Dueker said. "Mary decided it would be a great idea to have a table and chairs out there so we could have meetings outside. She also added a weight bench so we could work out, and she put out potted plants. Anything to make our work environment more efficient and fun."
Dueker said Still worked hard and played hard. "Whenever she had a free moment, she'd be out there, lifting weights and probably drafting something in her head."
"That's just Mary," Dueker said. "She thinks, 'Let's take care of everything that we can.'"
Still learned the value of hard work at an early age. She grew up in Fordyce, Ark., a small town about 70 miles south of Little Rock. Both her parents, Frank and Sue Wynne, were involved in local politics. Frank Wynne was a prosecuting attorney in eight counties, and Sue Wynne was the first woman in the area to serve on the school board.
"I spent my growing-up years in political rallies and parades," Still said, "and I have fond memories of that."
But Still's parents taught her more than how to enjoy a good parade. Her mother's time on the school board coincided with the move toward integration in Arkansas' public schools. Still, whose schools were segregated well into high school, said many residents opposed integration.
"It was a very challenging time," she said. "People really dug in their heels, but my mother was a real leader, and it turned out to be a graceful process for our town."
Still believes her parents' work in the community taught her the value of real leadership and inspired her to work in public service.
As a teenager, Still worked for her high school newspaper. One of her teachers told her that if she wanted to go to the best journalism school in the world, she should go to MU.
"My father said I could not go to Mizzou for all four years because it was too expensive," Still said. She fulfilled her general requirements at the University of Arkansas, then transferred to the Missouri School of Journalism in her junior year. She worked as an intersession reporter through her breaks and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1976.
After a short stint working at the Delta-Democrat Times in Greenville, Miss., Still returned to Columbia to marry Russell Still and start a job with Missouri State Parks and Historical Sites. From there, she took a job as director of the MU News Bureau. She grew to love the work.
"I began to understand the research that went on at this university," Still said. "I learned to better understand the land-grant mission and the work it’s doing for the sons and daughters of this state.
"The difference between this university and others is that it attracts
75 percent of the federal research money that comes into the state (for public universties)," Still said. "I hope that as state representative I can help educate the legislature about that work."
Holden said that, during his years as governor, Still continued in her role as a strong advocate for MU.
"She had strong opinions on anything that involved the University of Missouri," Holden said. "She was always working to protect Columbia's interests."
"Mary is a rare individual, you do not have to guess what's on her mind. She's very open, very direct," he said. But he was quick to add that he always appreciated Still's strength of will and appreciated that she always spoke her mind.
"She's a tiger," he said. "I always valued her opinion, though probably more than she thinks."
As Still established herself as a professional in Jefferson City, those who admired her work also grew to admire her personality.
"She is so amazingly generous," Dueker said. "When my family moved back to St. Louis while I was still working for the governor, I lived with Mary for a while. I lived in the little house."
Then, after a pause, "Has she told you about the little house?"
The "little house," Dueker said, is a small house in Still's backyard complete with a bedroom, family room and kitchen. Whenever there was someone working in Jefferson City — such as campaign workers or people working on a special project who needed a place to live — Dueker said, Still always offered to let them stay with her family in the little house.
"Everybody knows about the little house," Dueker said. "You could probably find numerous people around Jefferson City or Columbia who stayed in the little house. She's always dedicated to young kids and people who are willing to dedicate themselves to public service. She even opens her home."
Holden also called Still a genuine and generous person. "She's not looking for self-aggrandizement; she cares. We need other Mary Stills in Jefferson City. We need people that think and do and are passionate.”
Still is proud of the campaign she and her staff have run.
"We had a good showing in the primary, and ran a good, solid campaign," she said. To date, Still said, she has knocked on more than 5,000 doors. Last week, the campaign ran out of letterhead.
So much for a relaxing retirement.