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Columbia Missourian

Betty McCaskill, first woman elected to Columbia City Council, dies at 84

By DAVID A. LIEB, The Associated Press
October 29, 2012 | 7:33 p.m. CDT
In this Oct. 11, 2006, file photo, then-candidate for U.S. Senate Claire McCaskill, left, gives the thumbs up to supporters as she holds the hand of her mother, Betty Anne McCaskill, after her debate against incumbent Sen. Jim Talent at Clayton High School in Clayton. McCaskill's campaign said that 84-year-old Betty Anne Ward McCaskill died Monday at her home in St. Louis. The Democratic senator had said Saturday that her mother suffered from "acute cardio-renal failure" and had lost consciousness at several points in recent days.

JEFFERSON CITY — Betty Anne Ward McCaskill, the mother of Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill and a political trailblazer in her own right, died Monday at her home in St. Louis after a long struggle with heart and kidney problems, the senator said.

The first-term Democratic senator, who is locked in a close re-election race with Republican Rep. Todd Akin, had canceled most of her campaign events starting last week to spend time with her 84-year-old mother. She said Saturday that her mother suffered from acute cardio-renal failure and had lost consciousness at several points in recent days.

"For some time, Mom's health has not been good, and our family takes comfort that she is now at rest," McCaskill said in a statement announcing her mother's death. "We were incredibly lucky to have a mother like her, a woman of great intellect and strength, who loved and nurtured, challenged and pushed, and was always there with wise counsel and great humor."

Long before her daughter entered Missouri politics, Betty Anne McCaskill had made her own mark in Democratic circles. McCaskill has recalled how her mother sent her children out on Halloween in 1960 with the door-to-door message: "Trick or treat and vote for JFK," referring to the Democratic presidential candidate, John F. Kennedy.

In 1970, she was appointed to the Missouri Commission on the Status of Women, which evaluated the opportunities for women in Missouri government, education and business.

"I'm not what you call a 'militant feminist' — that is I don't believe women should 'fight,' but should be quietly firm," she said in a Nov. 5, 1967, Missourian article.

The next year, she became the first women elected to the Columbia City Council. She also once served as president for the trustees of William Woods University in Fulton, her alma mater.

She ran unsuccessfully for the state House in 1978 against Republican Leroy Blunt, whose son Roy Blunt now serves as Missouri's other U.S. senator. She later began a career as a financial consultant for Waddell & Reed in Kansas City, after her husband, Bill, became ill.

"I consider myself a liberated woman. I have my family's support and encouragement to go ahead with new activities," she said. "Many women wonder how I find time to do all that I do, but I think any woman who is motivated enough can find time for everything," she said in a Jan. 14, 1972, Missourian article.

In 2004, she helped her daughter's unsuccessful bid for governor by providing personal testimonies about the rising cost of medical care. She said at the time that her list of medicines had been steadily growing to the point that her costs far exceed her annual prescription drug coverage through private insurance.

During McCaskill's 2006 Senate campaign, her mother traveled around the state with her in an RV, appealing in particular to rural voters and seniors as she discussed the need to close coverage gaps in the Medicare prescription benefits. For this campaign, she recorded a video displayed on McCaskill's campaign website expressing her pride about the senator's work trying to straighten out mismanagement of veterans' burial sites at Arlington National Cemetery.

The Senate race between McCaskill and Akin has been in the national spotlight since Akin remarked in mid-August that women's bodies have ways of avoiding pregnancy in "legitimate rape." Although he apologized, McCaskill has highlighted the comment to portray Akin as an extremist and out of touch with women's issues. The Missouri Senate is one of several that could help determine party control of the U.S. Senate.

Akin expressed condolences in a written statement in which he said, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the whole McCaskill family right now."

In addition to Claire McCaskill, Betty Anne McCaskill is survived by two other daughters, Anne Moroh and Lisa Finn; one son, Will McCaskill; six grandchildren; along with step-grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for Sunday at the Sheldon Concert Hall in St. Louis.