Maggie Kernan, a class act

Dateline: Wed 02 Aug 2006

Word just in that former first lady of Indiana Maggie Kernan has retired from her banking job in South Bend. She will devote herself to volunteer work and will take charge of the first Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in northern Indiana.

Bravo, Maggie.

Mrs. Kernan, a private person, was never fond of the political limelight, but she took to her new role as first lady in 2003 with dignity and determination, largely, I felt, out of her intense devotion to her husband, Joe Kernan. Their new duties were all the more difficult under the circumstances -- the death of then Gov. Frank O'Bannon. Maggie Kernan had especially fancy shoes to fill, since the very active and articulate Judy O'Bannon set the standard for first ladies from here to eternity.

Despite Mrs. Kernan's reluctance, she did what she believed she needed to do: she rolled up her sleeves, got involved and, early on, faced reporters. I was fortunate enough to interview her right after her husband took the oath. She was genuinely nervous (which was refreshing) but she was thoughtful, honest, kind and generous.

She accomplished a great deal in her short time (until January 2005) as first lady -- she worked with kids and the elderly, with housing issues, on behalf of the disabled and she traveled to Bosnia to visit the Indiana National Guard. She showed that she cared deeply about Hoosiers and our lives.

Now here's the bitchy part. Everybody does it her way, of course, but what a contrast to the current first lady Cheri Daniels. Despite my best efforts, Mrs. D would not sit down for an interview with me (or anybody) after Mitch was elected. She did answer a series of questions via email (or her handler did). Talk about a yawner. Interests? Family. Projects? Exercise. Cause? Heart disease. Let's not forget gardening and reading books. The rest of the info had to be gleaned from two of her friends.

Cheri could take a page out of Maggie's book. Not everybody wants to be first lady, but when one is given a great opportunity, I'll take the model set by the little Irish lady from South Bend: you work it.

Email: ruth@ruthholladay.com

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