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Betty Anne McCaskill dies; mother of Sen. Claire McCaskill

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 29, 2012 - Betty Anne McCaskill, mother U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, died Monday at her home after suffering from cardio-renal failure. She was 84.

The senator was among the relatives at her mother’s side when she died. Because of her mother’s illness, Sen. McCaskill had been off the campaign trail for almost a week, except for a few hours on Saturday.

In a statement, McCaskill, D-Mo., said:

"I am very sad to announce today the passing of my mother, Betty Anne McCaskill. For some time, mom's health has not been good, and our family takes comfort that she is now at rest. ... Mom never met a stranger and lived life with enthusiasm that none of us could match. 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. While we know she's finally at peace, our family and her friends will all miss her so very much. Her death creates a hole in my life that will never be filled."

A memorial service for Mrs. McCaskill will be held Sunday, at 3 p.m. at the Sheldon Concert Hall, 3648 Washington Blvd., in Grand Center.

McCaskill's Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, was among a number of politicians issuing statements. "Lulli and I want to express our deepest condolences to Claire McCaskill and her family," said Akin. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the whole McCaskill family right now."

First woman on City Council in Columbia, Mo.

Born in California in 1928, Betty Anne Ward moved to Missouri as a child to live with relatives.

She graduated from high school in Lebanon, Mo., and attended William Woods University. She transferred to the University of Missouri-Columbia, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

She married William McCaskill on June 18, 1950. He went on to serve as Missouri's State Insurance Commissioner. The couple resided in the Missouri communities of Houston, Lebanon, Columbia, Springfield and Kansas City.

Betty Anne McCaskill was an active Democrat most of her adult life, the family said. She was "inspired to get involved in politics after President Harry Truman delivered the commencement address at her University of Missouri graduation in 1950.”

Perhaps as a result, the family said in a statement, “Betty Anne was known for her own brand of plain-spoken, colorful, Midwestern sensibility, not unlike Truman's.”

“She and her husband, Bill McCaskill, worked for many candidates through the years, beginning with Sen. Stuart Symington and every election year since.”

McCaskill recalled in a recent interview that when she was a child, for Halloween 1960, her mother told her children to say "trick or treat and vote for JFK," as they went door-to-door asking for candy.

In 1970, then-Gov. Warren Hearnes appointed Betty Anne McCaskill to the Missouri Commission on the Status of Women in 1970. The family called the appointment “her first official post in her ongoing efforts to expand opportunities for women across Missouri in the fields of government and politics.”

In 1971, she became the first woman elected to the City Council in Columbia, Mo. She also served on the board of trustees of her alma mater, William Woods University, including a stint as president.

By 1978, the family had moved to Springfield, Mo., where Betty Anne McCaskill made an unsuccessful bid for the Missouri General Assembly. Her GOP opponent was Leroy Blunt, the father of now-U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

In 1980, she was named the regional director of the Census.

Her family recalls that, “at the age of 54, due to her husband's illness, Betty Anne showed her mettle once again when she embarked on a new, 20-year career as a financial consultant for Waddell and Reed in Kansas City.”

Bill McCaskill died in 1993.

Embraced role as campaign sidekick

In 2006, Betty Anne McCaskill was a visible player in her daughter’s bid for the U.S. Senate, often accompanying her on road trips through rural Missouri. Betty Anne McCaskill became known for pithy, often-pointed, quips on the stumps.

Among her favorite phrases: "hornswoggled," "rickeydooed," and "flimflam game."

Betty Anne McCaskill was featured in several of McCaskill’s campaign ads, often attesting to her daughter’s “integrity, hard work and guts.” 

She also accompanied the senator at some testy public events, notably a 2009 town hall in Hillsboro where mother and daughter faced a spirited -- and, at times, angry crowd -- upset over the proposed federal health insurance changes.

In her most recent TV appearance, earlier this year, Betty Anne McCaskill narrates an ad that features her moving account of the problems at Arlington National Cemetery.

Said her family: “Betty Anne's own career was wide-ranging and varied, but her life was marked by a sustained passion for encouraging women to get involved in politics and their communities.”

“In 2008, Betty Anne was honored by the Boone County Democratic Party with the Betty Anne McCaskill Glass Ceiling Scholarship, which was created to honor young women who are active in the Democratic Party.”

Missouri Democratic Party Mike Sanders said, “I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Betty Anne McCaskill. Throughout her life, Betty Anne was a constant voice and advocate for women and Missouri’s families. Known and loved for her common-sense and hard work approach, Betty Anne’s support and strength for her family and Missourians will never be forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers are with Senator Claire McCaskill and her family.”

Missouri Republican Party chairman David Cole said in a statement, "Betty Anne McCaskill was a strong, accomplished woman and a formidable force on the campaign trail. Our thoughts and prayers are with Senator McCaskill and her family during this difficult time.”

Said U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.: "I admired Betty McCaskill. She was a fearless advocate for what she believed in. Nothing was higher on that list than Claire. Our thoughts are with Claire and her family today."

Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, said, "Georganne and I extend our deepest condolences to Sen. McCaskill and her entire family on the passing of her mother, Betty Anne. Throughout her life, Betty Anne was a strong leader for all women, for her community, and for our state. Missouri is a better state – a stronger and more inclusive state – because of her tireless service. The McCaskill family will be in our thoughts and prayers in the days to come.”

Betty Anne McCaskill had resided in Kirkwood with Sen. McCaskill and her husband, Joseph Shepard, since 2005. She was a member of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Aside from the senator, survivors include two other daughters -- Anne Moroh and Lisa Finn – and a son, Will McCaskill; six grandchildren, “numerous beloved step-grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, in-laws and wonderful dear friends, including her caregiver Sarah Dalton.”

In lieu of flowers the family suggests a contribution to the Betty Anne McCaskill Scholarship Fund, 109 Reynolds Alumni Center, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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