Mother’s Day reminds Colo. politicos who made them special
Author: Colorado Politics - May 11, 2018 - Updated: May 22, 2018
With Mother’s Day brightening the springtime, Colorado Politics reached out to some of the state’s best-known politicos to find out what lessons on life they learned from the woman who gave them life.
We begin with Gov. John Hickenlooper’s essay about his own mother, the woman he often references in talks with reporters about the lessons she imparted to him about hard work, responsibility and being thoughtful and cooperative.
Doing more with less
At barely five feet tall, my mother earned the nickname “Shrimpy” early in life. She was small in stature, but Anne Hickenlooper was a giant in the lives my siblings and me.
Her life wasn’t always an easy one. She was widowed twice by the age of 40. Her first husband, Bow Kennedy, died in a plane crash in World War II. And my father, John Hickenlooper, died after a long struggle with intestinal cancer in 1960.
But my mother persevered; she imparted numerous lifelong lessons along the way. Through the daily agony of caring for my dying father, knowing she couldn’t save him, she taught me about compassion, empathy, and even happiness. She would later say, “You owe it to yourself and your father to find joy. Nobody else will do it for you.”
She taught me how to do more with less — lessons that shaped my business and political life. She was one of the most frugal people I ever knew. She had to be, growing up during the depression. She liked to say “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” She sewed almost every dress she ever owned, and often cleaned and reused our tinfoil. She stretched every dollar as far as it could be stretched.
There are plenty of words I could use to describe my mother: patient, stoic, frugal. But I always come back to resilient. After losing two husbands, my mother raised four kids on her own. She did the job often split between two parents, and helped me find my way during some of the hardest years of my life.
Through it all, I never heard her complain.
She wasn’t effusive, but we never doubted her love and devotion. Her strength and love shaped my life, even when I didn’t have the sense to appreciate it. I am forever grateful to her for the joy I have found.
As Abraham Lincoln said, “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” Mom would have liked that quote.
— Gov. John Hickenlooper
Super message endures
Besides being Denver director of elections, Amber McReynolds has another title that means even more to her: “Super Momma,” as she’s called by her 7-year-old daughter, Klara, and 5-year-old son, Kenton.
She learned from the best, she said.
McReynolds grew up in a small town in western Illinois called Kewanee, where she was co-valedictorian of her class. Her dad, Dana McReynolds, was a local judge.
Her mom, Carol, was everything: A high school teacher, an interior designer, an “amazing cook,” and a gardener who loved the environment and supplied her family with fresh vegetables.
Everyone calls her Pixi, because she’s small, but to her son and two daughters, she was a wonder woman.
“She always said, ‘You never know what someone else may be going through, so above all, be kind,” Amber McReynolds said.
Most importantly, her mom taught her kids to have backbone and to bounce back up whenever they’re knocked down by life’s circumstances.
“I remember challenging times in high school and whenever I was upset, she told me to have courage,” Amber McReynolds recalled. “I was busy with so many activities, work, studies, sports and at times it was overwhelming, and I was hard on myself, but she said, ‘You are resilient; it will all be OK.’”
McReynolds said her mom’s spirit is ingrained on her soul, but she wears a bracelet each day to remind her. It’s engraved, “Have courage and be kind.”
“It has become my motto with my own kids,” the director of elections said.
— Joey Bunch
The name “Neville” means politics at the Colorado Capitol. Son Patrick Neville is the House Republican leader. Father Tim Neville is one the Senate’s elder statesmen, and another son, Joe Neville, is one of the best-known lobbyists for gun-rights advocates.
At the Neville home in Littleton, however, the word for politics could be mom.
Barb Neville is just as well-known in GOP political circles as the men in the family, and she sets the tone for passion, focus and diplomacy, Patrick Neville said.
She’s there to help out her boys in any way they need it, from tending kids to grooming talking points.
“Without a doubt, she’s the glue of the family,” he said.
But if there’s a heated argument at the kitchen table “where even the Nevilles are in disagreement,” Barb Neville pulls the family back onto the same side.
“She is boldly nice,” her son said. “Everyone knows not to mess with Barb Neville, but she’s also the nicest human being you would ever want to meet.”
She dragged her boys along to caucus meetings when they were elementary school and offered a different viewpoint on problem-solving.
“My dad was more like, ‘Here’s how you think,’” Patrick Neville recalled. “My mom was more Socratic in her method: ‘Well, why do think this way?’ She’d take me to different political events, and say, ‘Well, what did you think? Why did you like this one over that one?’”
His mom is hardly in the background, he said, but “she doesn’t need to be front and center to know she’s making a difference.”
— Joey Bunch
In the mind of former Colorado GOP Chairman Bob Martinez, mothers make the world go round — perhaps none more so than his own.
He credits his late mother, Helen, with making his lifelong dream come true: playing on a high school football team — even though football wasn’t offered at the Catholic high school in Albuquerque, where he grew up.
“My mom went down to talk to the nuns and tell them I was going to go to the public school to play football,” said Martinez, a veteran who lives in Castle Rock and now serves on the board of the USO Foundation.
“That took a lot of guts on her part — the nuns could be intimidating. It’s a fond memory of her standing up for what she believed in and helping facilitate my desires.”
Martinez went on to serve as the captain of his high school football team in 1961.
“We only lost one game the whole season,” he fondly recalled.
Martinez wanted to play football in college but learned he was “too small and too slow.” Still, he’s grateful for his mom’s courage to make his dream reality — if only for a while.
His mom — whom he calls “one of those little Republican ladies in tennis shoes who worked her precinct very hard” — also modeled civic engagement and lit a fire for politics in him.
His father ran an unsuccessful bid for state senate in New Mexico and was very active in the state’s Republican party, at one time serving as vice chair. Helen “was always at his side and very supportive,” he said. “She was very well known in her own right to be a political leader, so to speak.
“She was very loyal and patriotic and believed in what she believed in.”
In many ways, his wife, Sharon, reminds him of his mother.
“She’s the prototypical caring mother,” he said of his wife. “She very much looks out for her children as much as my mom did. She makes sure that they have the love and support and the education they need. And now she’s doing the same thing with the grandkids.”
— Erin Prater
Reconnected despite it all
Rep. Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood has made no secret of the fact that her devotion to working on the opioid epidemic is based on her own life story, and the struggles faced by her mother, Stacy, in overcoming heroin addiction.
Mother’s Day 2018 will start a new chapter for the Lakewood representative and her mom.
“Mother’s Day has always been a very sad day for me. You’re reminded of what you don’t have,” Pettersen said recently. This Sunday’s Mother’s Day will be the first since Pettersen was a young child that she will be able to celebrate Mother’s Day with her mom. She said she intends to do something special for her “and reflect on what she brings to my life.”
Pettersen said she had no relationship with her mom until Stacy went into recovery. Now, they do the things that mothers and daughters do together.
“I get to call her on my bad days and my good days” and do a lot of the things most people take for granted: shopping, getting their hair done together or meeting for brunch. “All of those moments are easy to take for granted, but I cherish every moment,” Pettersen said.
The two are now best of friends, she added.
— Marianne Goodland
She’ll have the usual
Every year, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner says, he joins his three young children to assemble a special morning for their mom, Jaime, on Mother’s Day. There’s a reason the family sticks with tradition, as the Yuma Republican explains:
“This Mother’s Day, Alyson, Thatcher, Caitlyn and I will do what we always do: Wake up early, go out to the backyard and pick flowers, make blueberry French toast, and have breakfast in bed for Jaime. It is our time to say thank you for everything she does for us.
“One time, I tried to change up the routine and make a fried chicken like Grandma used to make every year. We cooked the most gorgeous, golden brown fried chicken you’d ever seen. It was also inedible. So now, we just stick to blueberry French toast!”
— Ernest Luning
Mark your calendar
Renee Becker lives in Fort Morgan half the year and Arizona the other half. On Mother’s Day, she will be at her son’s house for a barbecue. Her son is Republican Rep. Jon Becker of Fort Morgan, who is ending his House career this year, choosing not to run for a fourth and final term, in order to spend more time with his teenaged sons who are nearing the end of their high school careers.
Of his mother, Becker said his mother is very outgoing. “She’s one of the nicest ladies you’ll ever meet … and thank you for reminding me that Mother’s Day is this Sunday,” he joked … I think.
— Marianne Goodland
A blooming tradition
Sandra Hagan Solin is celebrating the 2-year (or more) effort to get major transportation funding through the General Assembly, and in some ways her mom, Diane Hagan, plays a role.
“My mom is this supersweet, unassuming woman who is incredibly strong, quiet strong,” Solin told Colorado Politics. “She’s wicked smart and a whiz at solving problems. When my son has a question I can’t answer, he goes to his Nana.”
Solin said for Mother’s Day, she’s taking lilacs to her mom, who has lived in Vail for 40 years. The lilacs are a family tradition that goes back many years.
Solin explained that her dad would load up the family in the family car every year and drive down to Glenwood Springs, where the weather was warmer and the lilacs would be in bloom. Solin carries on the tradition by bringing lilacs to her mom for Mother’s Day.
Solin said her mother has influenced her in several major ways: “She always reminds me to write the thank-you notes” and she also has imbued in her daughter confidence, inner strength and perseverance, a quality that served Solin well in the past couple of day as lawmakers hammered out a long-awaited compromise on transportation funding.
— Marianne Goodland