Her friends have trouble deciding what Beverly Daggett would have listed as her proudest accomplishment during a political career that spanned nearly 30 years. Maybe it was her advocacy for children, or the midnight oil she burned to help fund the LifeFlight air rescue service. Or maybe it was the obvious distinction of being the first woman to serve as president of the Maine Senate.

But there is at least one thing about which those friends agree. Daggett, who died Sunday at the age of 69, would not have listed any of her political conquests as the biggest accomplishments in life. That honor belongs to her family.

“We would sit for two or three hours, and most of that time was talking about our families,” longtime friend Carol Kontos said. “That’s what she would want to be remembered for, I’m quite sure.”

Her family was on the way to be with her Sunday morning at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston when Daggett died. Tom Daggett, her husband of “44 wonderful years,” said his wife was suffering from an infection that ultimately was caused by her long-term struggle with polycystic kidney disease, an inherited condition that caused cysts to develop in her kidneys, robbing them of their ability to function.

“She had a serious blood infection that just could not be treated despite antibiotics,” Daggett said.

The family, which includes the Daggetts’ three grown children – John, Paul and Page – and two young grandchildren, still were organizing memorial services Monday.

John Daggett recalled his mother’s sense of humor and the enjoyment she took in being in the company of family and friends.

“She liked to know what other people were doing,” he said. “She had a prodigious memory for the things that were important to her family and friends.”

Daggett, shortly after she was sworn in as Senate president in 2002, told The Associated Press that she never aspired to a political career while growing up.

“I never had a specific vocation, and the one thing I always wanted to do was have a family and raise a family,” she said. “But then I’ve always had other interests in addition to that.”

Those interests were more than passing. They ignited a political career that carried Daggett from the Augusta school board to the second-most-powerful position in state government despite physical ailments that dogged her much of her career. Daggett, who continued to serve as a Kennebec County commissioner at the time of her death, was home for just 12 days between a 72-day stay at MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta and her final four days at CMMC. Even so, she still managed to make the commissioners’ regular meeting last week.

“She never gave up,” former Augusta legislator Patsy Crockett said. “She was a real fighter. You had to admire Beverly so much. She was such a strong person.”

Daggett was born in Florence, South Carolina, the daughter of a minister whose wife, Beth Clarke, also had studied in the seminary. Daggett spent most of her childhood in Virgina and North Carolina. She eventually left the South, graduating from high school in Radnor, Pennsylvania, and earning a biology degree from Hillsdale College in Michigan; but the South would never really leave Daggett.

“Despite the fact we were in different parties, Beverly was always incredibly gracious and collaborative on a whole range of issues,” said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta. “She was a real gentlewoman. She was from the South, and she brought the best of that Southern gentility to Maine.”

Daggett moved to Maine in 1968 and worked as a social worker for about four years before winning a spot on the school board. She was elected to the Maine House of Representatives in 1986 and served five terms.

The same year she first ran for Senate, 1996, the Daggetts moved out of their home of 25 years and she received a kidney given to her by a living donor: her mother, Clarke.

The donor kidney began to fail after about 10 years and Daggett was placed on a transplant list. She never received a new kidney, but Tom Daggett said his wife lived comfortably and in relative good health thanks to a home hemodialysis machine that allowed her to cleanse her blood more frequently and conveniently than those forced to go to a dialysis center a few times ever week.

“She was quite healthy right up until a few months ago,” Tom Daggett said.

Daggett headed various committees throughout her time in the House and the Senate. She worked closely on issues ranging from elections and taxation to veterans. Kontos, who served in the Legislature with Daggett besides sharing a close friendship with her, said Daggett took time to understand thoroughly the issues with which her committees dealt. Daggett was committed to serving her constituents and wanted to make sure the Legislature met its responsibility and functioned well, Kontos said.

“She believed in a committee that worked together,” Kontos said. “She wanted the Legislature to be successful. She wanted our endeavors to make a difference.”

Daggett never took opposition personally. She knew it came with the job, Kontos said, but Daggett also was informed and determined enough to make things difficult for those who opposed her.

“She was a real powerhouse,” Kontos said. “There were people who didn’t like working with her on certain things because she was so forceful. She had strong opinions and she could back them up. I think that’s why I liked her so much. You always knew where you stood.”

Daggett put those skills to use for various causes. Crockett recalled the hours Daggett spent securing funding for the new LifeFlight program. Crockett said Daggett also was driven to help children with disabilities.

“She will be missed by many,” Crockett said. “I believe she’ll be missed by many who don’t even realize all she’s done to help them.”

When Daggett’s anger was stirred, the cause was almost always something she believed to be unfair or poorly handled. Kontos said Daggett wanted policies and procedures people could readily understand that treated people respectfully. Her convictions, Kontos said, were informed by the faith passed down to her by her parents.

“Her life was very much guided by that belief system, that everybody matters,” Kontos said. “‘It’s just not right.’ I can almost hear her saying that.”

“She was an advocate in general,” John Daggett said. “She had a passion for people who were less fortunate.”

By time she was elected to lead the Maine Senate in 2002, Daggett was ready to take over.

“She had the experience and insight,” Kontos said. “She did it with grace and humility, but she knew it was important. I liked that about her a lot.”

Daggett, throughout her legislative career, proved adept at navigating hazardous waters, such as when she headed special panels to deal with mandatory car-emission testing, use of force by police and genetic engineering. After her election to the Senate presidency, Daggett worked closely with both parties to set a power-sharing agreement that grew out of the Senate’s first-ever partisan tie.

“She was a consensus builder,” said Tom Daggett. “She had tremendous leadership ability. She was able to bring people together to accomplish things that way, as opposed to divide and conquer.”

Daggett worked hard to get other Democrats elected during her time in the Legislature. That practice continued when her term ended. Daggett was Crockett’s campaign manager when Crockett first ran for the House. Daggett in 2007 filled the same role for Augusta resident Anna Blodgett’s successful campaign for the House.

“She was incredible,” Blodgett recalled. “She just led me through it. What I remember is how dedicated she was to her politics and her knowledge.”

Blodgett, who was on Augusta’s Planning Board at the time, also got a firsthand look at Daggett’s determination. Tom Daggett showed up at a Planning Board meeting during the campaign and called Blodgett out of the meeting.

“He said, ‘Beverly’s just had a heart attack, but she wants you to know she’ll be at the next (campaign) meeting,” Blodgett said with a chuckle. “That was Beverly. She had been through so much physically. She would tell me, ‘I’m used to this. This is normal.’ She was just amazing.”

But it wasn’t always normal, John Daggett said. His mother was a serious athlete before her health began to deteriorate. She played varsity volleyball and basketball in college and even as late as the 1990s competed in an amateur tennis league that made it to the national championships.

“She had a deep love for sports and was a competitor,” John Daggett said. “She was a very athletic person.”

Daggett’s death elicited a host of responses from political dignitaries on Monday. Senate Majority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, described Daggett as a “champion for working people and a strong voice for the residents of Augusta.” Phil Bartlett, of the Maine Democratic Party chairman, said Daggett will be “remembered for her bipartisan spirit and for her leadership, which made our state a better place.” House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said Daggett’s leadership and service “inspired so many of us.”

Nancy Rines, chairwoman of the Kennebec County commissioners, on which Daggett served for the final five years of her life, said the county will submit names of candidates to fill out the rest of Daggett’s term. Gov. Paul LePage will be tasked with choosing the new commissioner from that list.

“We certainly hope he will move quickly in that,” Rines said.

She said Daggett was faithful in her duties as commissioner and was “reliable to state her mind on any issue.”

“She was very cognizant of the people she represented and integrated that with her role as commissioner, where it’s not just your district, it’s the whole county.”

Kontos said she knew the details of Daggett’s health problems, but news of her passing still came as a surprising blow. Daggett had faced similar challenges so many times over the years and had always beaten them back.

“Because she kept overcoming them, I felt like we would grow old together,” Kontos said. “We’d have lunch and talk about our grandchildren and share recipes and books we’d read. I’m going to miss that. She was a wonderful woman. There are a lot of people who are going to mourn her loss.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

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