LEWISTON – Helen W. Longley, widow of Maine’s first independent governor, James Longley, died Tuesday after a brief illness. She was 83.
A longtime Lewiston resident, she was remembered not only as the wife of a powerful politician, but also as a quintessential mother and friend.
“Nobody could have had a better mother,” said her son James Longley Jr. “Everything she did revolved around her family. She always put her husband and her children first, particularly her children.”
Mrs. Longley died at Mercy Hospital in Portland. She had been living in Falmouth, but was remembered in Lewiston, where she used to share a home with her family.
“She was a really, really good friend to a lot of people around here,” said Rosemarie Butler, a Lewiston resident and longtime friend of the Longley family. “She had an enormous talent to be the kind of person she needed to be for the kind of man her husband was. She was the right person for Jim.”
Butler described a strong, vibrant woman who supported her husband through his political years while raising three daughters and two sons. She also described Mrs. Longley as a talented tennis player and an amazing cook.
“She was such a strong and solid person,” Butler said. “She was charming and sweet. She was always right there, standing with her husband.”
Mrs. Longley stood by her husband during his hard-fought campaigning years leading up to the stunning election when James Longley became the state’s first independent governor. He served from 1975 to 1979.
“She was the one who kept the house together,” said James Jr., a former U.S. representative from the 1st District and former Republican candidate for governor.
He described his mother as a person who could entertain tirelessly, assist her husband with his business and political career, and perform work of her own while never putting the needs of her children aside.
Helen Longley was born Helen Angela Walsh in Springfield, Ohio. She met her future husband in 1943, while he was an Army Air Corps cadet serving at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, according to her obituary.
They were married six years later in Ohio, before the couple moved to Lewiston, where James Longley opened an insurance business.
In Lewiston, where a bridge and an elementary school are among landmarks named after the governor, Helen Longley served as a volunteer for years at Central Maine Medical Center. It was a city she remained fond of, even after moving away in the later years of her life.
“The people of Lewiston and Auburn always made her feel welcomed,” said James Jr. “Her heart was in Lewiston. It truly was her home.”
Services will be held for her Friday morning in Falmouth. She will then be buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Lewiston next to her husband, who died in 1980.
“She was a great, great lady,” said James Jr.