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Thursday, March 23, 2023

Joanna Vail, ‘the greatest public service lobbyist in Minnesota’ dies at 93

Many colleagues consider Joanna Vail to be “the greatest public service lobbyist in Minnesota”.

Joanna Weil Portrait
Joanna Weil (courtesy of the family)

Todd Lefko, a longtime friend and president of the International Business Development Company, told Pioneer Press, “At the Metropolitan Council, she was called ‘our legislative mortician’ because she would always quash any bad law.” “She was a fixture, sitting in the front row of legislative hearing rooms, weaving and staring at any legislators who might vote against her bills.”

Weil was also a former nurse, Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party leader and an aide to the late Governor Wendell Anderson.

But to Capitol insiders, he will be most remembered for his fiery weaving during legislative committee meetings. A political foe once mailed her a pencil drawing of the guillotine on the message: “Are you knitting, Madame Defarge?” — a reference to the fictional character in Charles Dickens’ 1859 novel “A Tale of Two Cities” who sat outside his Paris liquor store during the French Revolution, endlessly weaving a scarf on a list of people being killed.

Vail died on May 12 at Presbyterian Homes in Arden Hills, where she had been receiving memory care since 2020. Former long-lived of White Bear Lake and later Mahtomedi, she was 93.

“Joanna loved cats, baseball, reading and spending time at her family’s camp on Agate Island in Ontario, Canada,” her son David wrote in a profile.

“Joanna was a combination of Massachusetts culture and Minnesota good,” Lefko said. “It was reflected in his humor, which could bite, but in Minnesota tradition, always told the truth.”

Vail was born on November 16, 1928, in Waltham, Mass. She graduated from Waltham High School in 1945, and then earned a nursing degree from McLean Hospital School of Nursing in 1950. She worked as a registered nurse in Massachusetts and Maryland. in the early 1950s.

After attending the University of Maryland, she worked as head nurse at Springfield State Hospital in Sykesville, MD, from 1952 to 1953, and was instructor and director of nursing education at Rosewood State Hospital in Owings Mills, MD, from 1953 to 1956. ,

She married Dr David Weil in 1956. He moved to Minnesota, where he became the state’s medical director and entered politics.

After his death in 1971, she returned to work to support her four children. She became a staff assistant to Gov. Anderson, a position she held until 1973, when she moved to the position of Special Assistant to the President of the Metropolitan Council until her retirement in 1994.

A member of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Union, Vail enrolled at Metropolitan State University in 1988 and became one of the first three area union members to graduate from the school’s labor studies program.

“I think people take a lot of the things that Labor has fought and worked for. I don’t think they should,” she later said. “We cannot count on the generosity of management without a strong countervailing force in the pursuit of the interests of the workers.”

Wells moved to White Bear Lake in 1959. She quickly became active in local politics, but lost badly in the 1961 primary election for the city council seat there.

He was elected Ramsey County DFL “President” in 1968 and the Fourth Congressional District DFL “President” in 1970. Friends said she was the first woman elected as the top congressional district officer in any party in Minnesota.

In 1968, she was a strong supporter of Eugene McCarthy for the presidency. The DFLers selected him as a delegate to that year’s turbulent Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where Hubert Humphrey defeated McCarthy for the party’s nomination. On their way back to their hotel one night, police battling violent protesters fired tear gas at the Well.

“I remember thinking, what is this housewife doing in the riots in Chicago?” Later he told reporters of Star Tribune.

Her family said, with the help of Anderson and others, Weil, “calmed down in 1971 and remained clean and sober for more than 50 years until his death.”

He is survived by sons David Rand Vail (Anne), Garrett Murphy Vail and Michael Walsh Vail; Daughters Sarah Weil Palmquist (Dan), Rachel Weil Doran (Michael) and Martha Weil Spittle (Thomas), 14 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Vail’s memorial service will be held on August 27 at 2 p.m. at White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church, 328 Maple St., Mahtomedi. Memorials are prioritized for Well Place, a non-profit organization that provides recovery services for adults with serious mental illnesses.

World Nation News Desk
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