Mildred McAuliffe, who gamely played secretary for a business her son launched as a teenager and watched him be sworn in last month as Virginia’s 72nd governor, died Feb. 13 at a nursing home in Syracuse, N.Y. She was 92.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) could not travel to be with her because Virginia was under a state of emergency because of a snowstorm, but he was able to talk with his mother by phone right up to the end, said Thomas J. McAuliffe, the governor’s brother. Thomas McAuliffe held his cellphone to his mother’s ear so the governor and other family members could say goodbye.
“He spoke to her several times, as well as his wife,” Thomas McAuliffe said Friday. “All 15 grandchildren got to say goodbye individually. Yesterday was a beautiful day for her.”
The governor plans to travel to Syracuse next week for the funeral, his office said.
Millie McAuliffe had not been well enough to travel to Richmond for the inauguration. But she watched her son’s swearing-in on a big-screen television in the nursing home, singing along with the children’s choir that was part of the ceremony.
She was known for her singing — and for enjoying the spotlight in a way that the youngest of her four sons, Terry, clearly inherited.
“She was famous for singing ‘Hello, Dolly!’ at every social event she went to,” Thomas McAuliffe said. “Every wedding. She even started singing at wakes. She’d be offended if you didn’t ask.”
Which is not to say that Mrs. McAuliffe actually had a good singing voice.
“It was horrible,” Thomas McAuliffe said with a laugh. “She sounded just like Carol Channing.”
Mildred Katherine Lonergan was born in Syracuse on Nov. 18, 1921, the oldest of three girls born to a homemaker and a builder who prided himself on never creating two houses that were the same.
Known to everyone as Millie — she hated “Mildred,” Thomas McAuliffe said — she had an independent spirit that was not the norm for women of her era, he said. After graduating in 1939 from Syracuse University with a degree in journalism, she struck out for Boston, where she “didn’t know a soul,” and got a job working for Liberty Mutual Insurance, he said.
She moved to the company’s San Francisco office during World War II and, for a time, took flying lessons.
She eventually settled back in Syracuse after meeting her future husband, Jack McAuliffe, on a blind date. Jack McAuliffe was treasurer for the Democratic Party in Syracuse, and Mrs. McAuliffe worked campaigns with him while raising their four children.
When 14-year-old Terry launched his own driveway-sealing business, Mrs. McAuliffe agreed to answer the home phone with, “McAuliffe’s Driveway Maintenance.”
“Like it was very successful,” Mrs. McAuliffe recalled in an interview with The Washington Post during last fall’s campaign. “Like I was his secretary.”
Mrs. McAuliffe, who was widowed in late 2000, had a wry sense of humor about her longevity, often telling relatives during the campaign that she would have to hang on long enough to see her son win the governor’s race.
“Well, I guess I’ll have to live till November,” Thomas McAuliffe recalled her saying. He said that after Terry McAuliffe won, she remarked, “Now I have to live until the inaugural.” He added, “We didn’t realize she was serious.”
Her health declined soon after Terry McAuliffe was sworn in. Although the exact cause of death has not been determined, Thomas McAuliffe said she had been battling “a couple” of infections.