Lisbon mourns loss of Rep. Gina Mason

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LISBON — Talk to those who knew Gina Crafts Mason and you hear a swirl of stories, from ice-skating on a winter pond to preparing a float for the annual Moxie Festival parade, that are in some ways typical of small-town Maine — until you knit them all together.

What made Mason, a state representative who died Tuesday, stand apart is the sheer volume of what she packed into her 58 years: mother of two, wife of her high school sweetheart, town councilor, school board member, baton coach, gardener, and so much more.

“Her role in the town was, basically, everything,” said Tracey Steuber, Lisbon’s economic development director.

Fern Larochelle, who served with Mason on the Town Council, said that for her, Lisbon and Lisbon Falls were “not just a place, but her home,” a community she loved and sought to improve at every turn.

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“That’s important stuff,” he said, and not something you can say about everyone.

Mason died suddenly on the eve of a moment she had looked forward to seeing: an announcement by her son Garrett Mason, the state Senate majority leader, that he planned to run for governor. Her death postponed the event.

“What a tragic loss,” Lisbon Town Manager Diane Barnes said. “She’s going to be truly missed. She is the true definition of a civic leader.”

Many political leaders weighed in Wednesday with comments honoring Mason, including a number of legislative colleagues. But it was in her town that the shock resonated most deeply.

“I’m just devastated over this loss,” Sally Dunn, a friend since elementary school, said.

By all accounts, Mason put family first — no surprise given that both the Crafts and the Masons are embedded in the history of Lisbon — but managed to find a way to make herself available for a wide array of endeavors, as well.

“She’s always been just a selfless person,” friend Kadin Lawrence said, filled with energy and always ready to help.

Dunn got to know Mason at age 9 after moving in across the street in the little Huston Park area, a close-knit neighborhood of postwar houses. The pair quickly became fast friends, sharing everything with one another, including the measles.

Dunn recalled racing around on a bicycle one day, with Mason pedaling while Dunn perched on the handlebars as they approached a particularly wicked S-curve in a road that they called “the gully.” They didn’t make it, crashing spectacularly. There were no broken bones but a lot of road rash, Dunn remembered.

Another time, Mason’s father, Chauncey Crafts, who had a car dealership in Brunswick, brought home a kid-friendly Herbie the Love Bug mini-Volkswagen they played with for hours, Dunn said. She was so close to her pal’s family that they often took her along on vacations.

Mason, an only child, told the Sun Journal that her father was “very into history” and used to take her to see things that were going on, from Muhammad Ali’s training for a 1965 fight in Lewiston to catching sight of presidents passing through.

“We went to see the moon rocks in the ’70s. He always tried to make it dynamic, and he always tried to make it fun and important,” she said, a spirit that she tried to pass on to her children.

But most days were spent close to home.

Dunn said she and Mason were members of a baton squad that would perform at parades and competitions, something Mason enjoyed enough to coach it in later years.

Perhaps befitting someone who embraced small-town life with gusto, Mason married the guy who swept her off her feet in high school, Rick Mason, a contractor in Lisbon. They had two children, Garrett and Haley.

The Masons declined to talk Wednesday, by all accounts heartbroken by the sudden departure of the woman Garrett Mason called “the bedrock of our family” in a brief statement he released late Tuesday.

Gina Mason graduated from Lisbon High School in 1978 and earned a degree in fashion merchandising and retail buying from Westbrook College two years later. Dunn said Mason’s first job after college was at a store at the Auburn Mall. “She really enjoyed the fashion industry,” Dunn said.

But when her children came along, Mason spent most of her time in Lisbon, friends recalled, raising them, throwing herself into the church and helping to make ends meet. She found time, though, for those who needed her.

Rae Lawrence recalled that Mason — “a pearl of a woman” — “was always upbeat. Nothing seemed to bother her. She was kind of laid-back.”

As her children got older, Mason began to get involved more formally in the community.

She served on the Lisbon Town Council from 2006 until 2013. The following year, voters elected her to a three-year term on the School Committee. She served on the Moxie Committee since 2007 and had chaired its parade since 2010. She was elected to the Legislature in 2016.

Though a hardcore Republican, Mason won the respect of politicians on both sides of the aisle.

“She was a doer, for sure,” Larochelle said.

“Gina was the type of person you always knew where you stood,” Steuber said. “She was very honest” and willing to give you a straightforward opinion, someone “you could trust and confide in.”

“She had a great soul,” Steuber said.

Julie-Ann Baumer, a friend, rented an apartment over Mason’s barn after returning to Maine from many years of living away.

“Moving back to your hometown after many years of living somewhere else can be tricky, but Gina helped me find my way,” Baumer said. “She was always honest with me and was such a steady mentor to me, as well as a close friend.”

“She knew everyone and she knew their histories, which is so important. She brought this knowledge to the table in everything she did,” Baumer said.

“When I think back, our lives were intertwined in the way small-town people used to be connected. We lived in the same neighborhood, went to the same church and twirled batons together,” Baumer said.

Among the tributes that poured in for her was one from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, who called Mason “a devoted mother and wife, a tireless public servant, and a beloved figure in Lisbon.”

“Gina will long be remembered for the countless contributions she made to her community,” Collins said.

House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said the entire Maine House “is grieving today for the loss of our colleague and friend.” Gideon said Mason was “a respected public servant” who will be missed “by all of us who were lucky enough to have served with her.”

State Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, said she hailed from “a family that valued public service and focused its love and devotion not only on its own, but on the whole people of Maine. I can think of no better testament to her life than the legacy she leaves through her family.”

There will likely be a special election to fill her 56th District seat representing Lisbon.

scollins@sunjournal.com

Gina Mason, then 55, of Lisbon, shows off her souvenir gloves with Muhammad Ali’s autograph in 2015. She obtained the gloves and the autograph at Holiday Inn (now Fireside) in Auburn at his training camp. Mason, a state representative, died suddenly this week.

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