Mary Lou Palmer, the longtime aide to former Rep. Jack F. Quinn Jr. who was instrumental in his rise from Hamburg Town Hall to the U.S. Capitol, died Monday in Lakewood Health Care Facility, Hamburg, from complications of a stroke. She was 71.
An unassuming woman with a gift for understanding politics at the people level, Mrs. Palmer joined the future congressman when he made his first run for the Hamburg Town Board in 1981. Quinn recalled that Hamburg Republicans suggested three people in town to help his effort, and he chose her because he had once been her newspaper delivery boy.
"We became very close friends, and she was fiercely loyal," Quinn said, "and any candidate will tell you that's probably the most important attribute."
The former congressman said that her ability to connect with ordinary voters constituted a major part of his success over 12 political campaigns for Hamburg Town Board, supervisor and then Congress.
"She had a knack for treating anyone who called the office as if they were a member of her family," he recalled. "I got credit for helping people in a lot of cases, but most times it was really Mary Lou Palmer."
Born Mary Lou Brown in South Buffalo, she graduated in 1953 from Our Lady of Victory High School in Lackawanna and then from Mount St. Joseph Business School. She worked for several years as a secretary at Bethlehem Steel Corp. and then for the U.S. Post Office before starting a beauty shop that she operated for more than 40 years.
"She would never give it up, because she said she got the best political pulse right there in the hairdresser salon," Quinn said.
And when it came time to name his chief of staff after his election to the House of Representatives in 1992, Quinn chose the Blasdell secretary and hairdresser over Washington professionals because of what he called her political street smarts.
It all began in 1975, when her husband was chief of the Blasdell Police Department.
"My father was having trouble with the board, and she got aggravated over some things," recalled her daughter Lynda Taylor. "So she switched to the Republicans, got active, and she never stopped."
When Quinn's son, Jack F. Quinn III, ran for the Assembly in 2004, Mrs. Palmer signed on as manager of his successful campaign and began serving with another political generation of Quinns.
She was a Republican state committee member for 25 years and attended five GOP national conventions.
In addition to her daughter Lynda, she is survived by her husband of 52 years, Robert; another daughter, Sharon; a son, Robert Jr.; and a sister, Carol B. Dane.
Prayers will be said at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in John J. Kaczor Funeral Home, 3450 South Park Ave., Blasdell, followed by a Mass of Christian Burial at 9:30 in Our Mother of Good Counsel Catholic Church, 3688 South Park Ave., Blasdell.