BREWER, Maine — In a quarter century of working for U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, Snowe’s State Director Gail Kelly said she can’t remember ever arguing with — let alone disagreeing with — her boss.
On March 16, the 61-year-old lifetime Brewer resident celebrated her 25th and final year on Snowe’s staff, Kelly said Saturday in her home. She has been working with the departing congresswoman longer than any other staff member.
Snowe announced late last month that she wouldn’t run for another term in the Senate, meaning the end of a 33-year congressional career. The decision sent shock waves across the Maine political scene and through the offices of her staff.
“The shock of it,” Kelly said, “it’s a bit like losing a family member.”
Kelly’s career in Snowe’s offices started when she was a 30-year-old graduate of what was then Husson College with a medical assistant degree looking for work. That job came when she joined Snowe’s U.S. House re-election campaign in 1980, Kelly said.
“I took the job and ended up falling in love with the person and admiring her,” Kelly said.
Since then, Kelly has met presidents. Meeting George H.W. Bush was one of her biggest thrills, she said. On Kelly’s 50th birthday, Snowe presented her with a framed picture of Bush, Kelly and Snowe.
Kelly said Snowe always had the best interests of Mainers and the nation in mind and worked tirelessly to get Congress to work together to move the country forward.
Snowe cited political polarization and gridlock as major players in her decision to not pursue another term.
“People are going to realize when she’s gone what an effect she had,” Kelly said.
Kelly said her career has presented many challenges, such as the time when demonstrators brought her Bangor office to a halt in 2003 by chaining themselves together during a war protest, but that it has been rewarding to help the people of Maine.
Kelly, who has multiple sclerosis, will be recognized by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society for her service under Snowe during a fundraising gala scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 21, at Wells Conference Center on the University of Maine Campus in Orono.
The MS Society has named Kelly its “Milestones 2012” honoree because of her years of service to the organization, including her time on the society’s board of directors, and her charity work.
Kelly started Kelly’s Kruisers, a bicycling team that has raised more than $120,000 in donations toward multiple sclerosis research since the team started in 2005.
Multiple sclerosis attacks a person’s central nervous system and symptoms vary widely from person to person. Symptoms can range from pain in limbs to memory loss to paralysis.
Kelly said the unpredictable nature of the disease sometimes has affected her ability to work from time to time.
“You don’t know from day to day what your MS is going to be like,” Kelly said. “Today I could have numb hands or my feet might not work quite right. I’ve been lucky that it hasn’t affected my memory.”
As her time under Snowe comes to a close, Kelly said, just like the rest of the staff, she is weighing her options to see what she’ll do next — whether it be with the federal government or in the private realm.
Kelly said she could retire, but would be too bored. She said she would like to stay in public service in some way.
“It’s just something that stays with you forever when you help people,” Kelly said. “And that’s why we do what we do.”