Rhode Island Remembers Susan Farmer

Sep 16, 2013

Former Secretary of State and public television executive Susan Farmer has died after a long fight with cancer.

Farmer became the first woman elected to statewide office when she won an election for secretary of state in 1982. Former Providence Journal political columnist M. Charles Bakst said Farmer was the leader in a wave of GOP women winning political office.

Susan Farmer was the first woman elected to a state-wide office in Rhode Island when elected as Sec. of State in 1982.
Credit RI PBS

“Republicans led the way in this state. Five of the first six women who were elected to office were Republicans,” said Bakst. “She was a liberal Republican. In her day, that was the thing to be.”

After two terms as secretary of state, Farmer lost a run for lieutenant governor in 1986.

She went on to serve as president and CEO of Rhode Island’s public television station, now known as RI PBS, for 17 years. Bakst said Farmer helped raise the station’s profile by creating the weekly panel discussion show “A Lively Experiment.”

Rhode Island Elected Officials Remember Susan Farmer

House Speaker Gordon Fox: “Susie Farmer was a wonderful person who was a trailblazer for women in elected statewide office.  I always admired her tremendous leadership at Channel 36 and her commitment to community service.  She exuded charm, grace, positive energy and a joy for life, even in the face of her long struggle with cancer.  My condolences to her husband Mac, who is a long-time friend and constituent, and the entire Farmer family.”

Congressman David Cicilline:  “I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Susan Farmer, a former Secretary of State for Rhode Island who was first elected in 1982.  She was a distinguished public servant and a real trailblazer as the first woman elected to statewide office in Rhode Island. After serving two terms in office, Susan spent nearly two decades continuing her lifelong devotion to public service as the CEO and general manager for Rhode Island Public Television. My thoughts and prayers go out to Susan’s husband, Mac, and their entire family during this difficult time.”

Congressman Jim Langevin: “I was deeply saddened to learn today of the passing of Susan Farmer, a true public servant and an individual who inspired so many to become active in government. Her work as Secretary of State and her example of leadership served as a model for me when I assumed the office several years later. As the first woman in Rhode Island to hold statewide office, Susie was a trailblazer. She was generous of her time and expertise, lending both to anyone who sought public office as a means to improving our state. She paved the way for current and future political leaders and for female leaders in particular. Her contributions to Rhode Island, to politics and to the electoral process will not be forgotten.”

Secretary of State Ralph Mollis: “Susan Farmer, the first woman ever elected to General Office in Rhode Island was a political trailblazer, serving two consecutive terms.  She was also the first Republican to be elected to Secretary of State in 44 years, and forged a path for Rhode Island women for generations to come.  More recently I had the honor of working with Susan as she continued her public service by sitting on the Board of Elections.  It was an honor to work with her, to know her and she will be sadly missed. “My thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends.”   

Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed: “As the first woman elected to statewide office as Secretary of State, Susan Farmer helped to open the door for many women who followed. She always sought ways to give back to Rhode Island, in elected office, as head of Rhode Island PBS, and as a private citizen engaged in civic life. The thoughts and prayers of the Senate are with Malcolm and the entire Farmer family in this difficult time.”

Senator Jack Reed:  “I am deeply saddened by the passing of Susan Farmer, who was a political pioneer, a dedicated public servant, and a successful CEO.  She gave her time and leadership to so many non-profits and community organizations throughout Rhode Island and was a real inspiration to so many.  She will be deeply missed, but not forgotten.”

Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts:  "I was deeply saddened to learn of former Secretary of State Susan L. Farmer's passing. She was a woman of great courage and political leadership, serving as a role model for Rhode Island women throughout the state who aspired to participate in politics at the level of statewide elected office. She has made a lasting impression on me and so many of my peers. Women from all walks in this state will be forever indebted to Susan Farmer for her service to Rhode Island state government, as well as for her accomplishments as a business leader at WSBE Rhode Island PBS. She will be sorely missed, and I send my thoughts and prayers to her family and friends."

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