BRUNSWICK, Maine — From the kick line of the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall to the Maine Senate chamber — where she “ran a tight ship” for many years as sergeant-at-arms — Mary “Molly” Pitcher was remembered Wednesday by many as “a force to be reckoned with” in whatever capacity.
Pitcher, 93, died last month at her home with her son, former state Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, at her side.
“She was a force bigger than life,” said Marcia Homstead, who served as a legislative staffer with Pitcher for three legislative sessions. “She knew everybody and everybody knew her.
In my mind, when I think of a strong Democrat, I think of Molly. She was very proud to be a Democrat.”
Gerzofsky on Wednesday remembered Pitcher as “a great mom,” who took in many “struggling” kids over the years, particularly while they lived in Brooklyn, New York.
Gerzofsky and his sister were raised by Pitcher alone after their father did not return from the war, he said. Single mothers had few choices, and Pitcher chose to work in nightclubs, where she made the most money.
“That was how she became such friends with Jackie Gleason,” he said. “To us, he was just Uncle Jackie.”
Pitcher worked during the late 1940s and early 1950s as a “hat check girl” and a “camera girl” at night. During the days she’d work at Macy’s, Gerzofsky said.
Later, she danced with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. At only 5 feet, 6 inches tall, she danced at the end of the line, and worked more during the holidays than the rest of the year, but Gerzofsky said he remembers sitting in the hall watching the dancers rehearse.
Later, she danced on Ed Sullivan’s “Toast of the Town” and with the June Taylor Dancers on “The Jackie Gleason Show.”
“It was a fun and exciting time,” Gerzofsky said.
Always active in the Democratic Party, Pitcher marched in the civil rights movement with Cesar Chavez and attended the 1960 Democratic National Convention as a delegate for John F. Kennedy.
The family moved to California and then Vermont, where Pitcher owned and operated a furniture factory, before finally moving to Maine when she met her second husband, Thornton Pitcher.
Gerzofsky said his mother, a lifelong Democrat, became immersed in the party in Maine. She worked at the Maine Legislature as part of Sen. Gerard Conley’s staff, as a clerk for the Labor Committee, and as the Senate sergeant-at-arms.
Gerzofsky remembers more than one member of the Republican Party telling him about his mother ejecting them from the Senate.
Once, he said, a woman approached a sitting senator at his seat, which is not allowed in the chamber. Pitcher gently — then forcefully — reminded the woman that she had violated the rules.
“Mother went over to [the woman], put her finger under her armpit, lifted her up on top of her tiptoes and marched her down to the post office,” Gerzofsky said he was told. “And she was banned from coming into the Senate.”
“My mother would yell at anybody,” he said.
“When I think about the Senate chamber, I think of sitting in her chair in the back of the Senate chamber kind of like an anchor, in a positive way, keeping everything together and in order,” said Marge Kilkelly, who served in the Maine Senate from 1997 to 2002 and now works for U.S. Sen. Angus King.
“At one point when she was at one of the national conventions, she referred to herself as sort of the grandmother of the delegation,” Kilkelly said. “I think we all had that same feeling. She was just there and a presence and a force, in a way that was solid and dependable, in a place that has a tendency to be a little crazy and chaotic.”
Her legacy as a powerful advocate for State House decorum remained strong on April 18, when lawmakers — who were otherwise engaged in fierce partisan wrangling as the session wound down — paused to honor her in both chambers with a legislative sentiment.
Brunswick Rep. Ralph Tucker described Pitcher as a master of the absentee ballot, crediting her with helping him win a close primary in 2014 and noting that any Brunswick Democrat with aspirations of running for office needed to gain Pitcher’s approval.
Rep.Mattie Daughtry, another Democrat from Brunswick, credited Pitcher with inspiring her, at a young age, to strive to make a difference in politics — as long as she did it as a Democrat. While other adults dismissed Daughtry’s childhood ambitions of running for president, Pitcher encouraged her to pursue her dreams, she said during a floor speech.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree remembered Wednesday that Pitcher was one of the first people she met when Pingree arrived at the Senate in 1993.
“Her infectious energy and love of the state made her unforgettable,” Pingree wrote in an email to the Bangor Daily News. “But I would be remiss not to mention her son, former state Sen. Stan Gerzofsky. It’s clear that Molly’s love of Maine came through in Stan, who was always a passionate advocate for the people of Brunswick during his time in the State House.”
“She was absolutely dogged on the opportunity for people to get to vote,” he said. “My mother really cared about not only the Democratic Party, but she taught me to revere the Republican Party as well, because everyone really needs a voice, and government is supposed to give everyone a voice.”
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