POLAND — Former Maine lawmaker Lois Snowe-Mello died Sunday night in hospice, according to Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn.
She was 67.
“Rest in peace to my good friend, my mentor and my unofficial grandmother, Lois Snowe Mello, who passed away tonight in hospice care,” Brakey posted on Facebook on Sunday night.
Brakey occupies the Maine Senate seat once held by Snowe-Mello.
A Republican, Snowe-Mello served eight years in the Maine House and six years in the Senate representing her hometown as well as Auburn, Minot and New Gloucester.
Born on Feb. 27, 1948, she began her political career in 1996 when she was elected to the Maine House. After serving four two-year terms there, she was elected to the Senate in 2004, beating Sen. Neria Douglass, and then re-elected in 2006.
In 2008, she faced a challenge from Rep. Deborah Simpson and narrowly lost re-election. Two years later, Snowe-Mello beat Simpson in a rematch.
She was lauded for protecting the rights of small business. In 2006, she was named a “Guardian of Small Business” by the Maine Chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business.
In 2011, Snowe-Mello was lead sponsor on an unsuccessful “right-to-work” bill, an effort to bar unions from requiring membership and dues in the workplace.
Brakey told the Sun Journal on Monday that Snowe-Mello taught him many things about the political process when he was a volunteer on her unsuccessful 2012 re-election campaign. She later encouraged Brakey to run for that seat and served as his campaign chairwoman.
“She really was my partner through the whole process,” he said. Even after his election in 2014, Snowe-Mello advised him despite her failing health, Brakey said.
“It’s been incredibly invaluable to me. She has been a tremendous mentor,” he said.
During her tenure in the Maine Legislature, “Lois was an absolute spitfire,” Brakey said, never afraid to speak out on an issue. “She had an opinion on everything and she was never afraid to let you know about it.”
When Snowe-Mello was hospitalized at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Gov. Paul LePage and his wife, Ann, paid her a visit, Brakey said.
After having private words with her in her room, LePage told Brakey in the hallway, “What a wonderful lady and, also, when she was angry with you, you always knew it.”
As important as it is to have people who support you, it’s equally important to “have people who are willing and able to challenge you from a loving place. And that was Lois,” Brakey said.
Former Maine Senate President Richard Bennett, who is chairman of the Maine Republican Party, said Monday that Snowe-Mello was a close personal friend for many years.
“It was sad to see her depart,” he said.
He visited her at CMMC on Friday.
“We all loved her for her happy demeanor and her fighting spirit,” he said. “She really was tenacious when it came to fighting for her causes.”
Bennett remembered one time when he was Senate president and she was serving in the Maine House.
“I voted — in the wrong way — on something important to her and she hustled down the hallway into the Senate chamber and gave me a good talking to,” he said.
“She was unabashed about letting people know — her friends as well as her adversaries — when they were in the wrong, and she was also very supportive when you were in the right with her.”
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said in a statement Monday: “Lois Snowe-Mello’s decades of public service to our state reflect how much she cared for the people of Maine. Lois inspired so many young people to enter into public service serving as a mentor to many. Lois’ tremendous spirit will be sorely missed by our community.”
Snowe-Mello was a cousin of Peter Snowe, former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe’s first husband. Brakey said Snowe-Mello used to joke that she was a Snowe before the nationally known U.S. senator from Maine married into the family, Brakey said.
Snowe said in a written release Monday: “Jock and I were deeply saddened by the passing of Lois Snowe-Mello. I knew Lois for more than four decades as a member of the Snowe family, and as a wonderful friend and supporter to both of us throughout the years. Lois contributed immensely with her longtime, stalwart activism in the Maine Republican Party and, above all, she was a passionate advocate for her constituents in both the Maine House and Senate.”
The Maine Legislature is expected to recognize Snowe-Mello in a memoriam to be presented on the Senate floor Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the Maine Senate Republican Office said.
Snowe-Mello was predeceased eight months ago by her husband, Brian Mello.