AUGUSTA – Maine’s first lady, Ann LePage, is on a mission to help military families by bringing awareness to the sacrifices they make while Dad or Mom is serving the country.

“It’s almost like it’s the American thing to do, support your military,” she said.

Although the 53-year-old Vassalboro native doesn’t come from a military family, she wants to draw attention to the importance of the work done by the men and women who serve the country, and the children who learn to cope with an absent parent.

“I’m trying to do as many military things as I can,” she said during a Thursday interview in the Sun Room of the Blaine House. “If nothing else, it brings what they are doing into focus.”

Last week, the first lady and governor flew on a mission with the Air National Guard’s 101st Air Refueling Wing from Bangor to experience firsthand two planes flying faster than 400 mph while essentially tethered together.

“I don’t think the common person even thinks of that stuff,” she said.

She and the governor also recently visited children attending the Maine National Guard Youth Camp at Bog Brook in Gilead.

“That was my most rewarding day, just to see those kids,” she said. “That was really, really nice.”

The first lady, who displays an endless smile and is quick to laugh, said it’s been a smooth transition into life in the Blaine House. She loves the nearby rail trail, but misses working at Marden’s Surplus & Salvage, where her husband was the general manager. She worked in the warehouse, office and clothing department of the Waterville store.

Being first lady means ceremonial duties and time spent on the road traveling with the governor.

“My biggest challenge, I would say, is being in the forefront,” she said. “I tend to like to be in the back of the room and now I’m in the front of the room. That’s a little bit challenging for me at times.”

And while her husband has faced controversy as the state’s chief executive, she believes he’s doing what voters elected him to do: make tough decisions.

The former mayor of Waterville is frustrated by the pace of things in Augusta, she said.

“It moves a little bit slower than what he’s used to,” she said. “He doesn’t base his decisions on whether he’ll get re-elected or not. He just does what he thinks is right. He’s not afraid to make tough decisions.”

Dinnertime discussions — which often include daughter Lauren, who lives in the Blaine House and works for the governor’s chief of staff, John McGough — sometimes focus on policy, the first lady said, but not always. She loves the Capitol-for-a-Day events, from visiting businesses in the targeted county to the town hall meetings at the end of the day.

Some of those town hall meetings have featured vocal protesters with signs critical of the governor. The “61 percent” group — the percentage of voters who chose a candidate other than Paul LePage last year — has traveled to the town halls, including recent stops in Rockport and Dover-Foxcroft.

“You see the protesters and all of that, but once they are in there and hear directly from the governor and the commissioners, straight, nonscripted answers to their questions, sometimes you can almost feel the whole atmosphere sort of change a little bit,” she said.

This week, the governor and his wife will celebrate their 27th wedding anniversary. The couple will be at a family wedding in Florida.

“His famous saying is, ‘If you stick with me long enough, I’ll be the perfect husband,’” she said.

The couple met at what was then Scott Paper in Winslow. She was a union representative for the office workers and he was in management.

“When I took Paul home to meet my dad, my dad said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me, he’s a white-collar guy, he doesn’t know how to work,’” she said.

But her father, an electrician at a local mill, and her future husband soon became good friends. Her father then realized that his daughter had married someone who liked to work long hours.

“When he does something, he jumps in with both feet,” she said.

Ann LePage spent years as a caregiver, first to their two children, Lauren and Paul, and then to Devon, a Jamaican national who spent some of this teenage years living in the LePage household in Waterville.

She has continued the caregiver role in recent years by taking care of her mother, who suffers from scleroderma, a chronic connective tissue disease.

As first lady, LePage is also participating in events on elder care and has met with businesswomen who have concerns about the business climate in Maine.

Past first ladies in Maine also pursued diverse agendas while their husbands served as governor.

First lady Mary Herman, wife of Gov. Angus King, was known for her support of small businesses, local artisans and children’s issues. Karen Baldacci, wife of Gov. John Baldacci, focused on childhood education, health, literacy and locally grown foods.

In addition to monthly dinners with military families, Ann LePage will soon host an ice cream social for them at the Blaine House. The upcoming event reminded her of a funny story from Easter Sunday.

That day, she dressed up in a full bunny suit to entertain the children. As the governor and a security officer peeked through the Blaine House windows, she played with the children in the garden out back.

“I’m starting to walk off and Paul yells out the window, ‘Easter Bunny, I thought you were a hopper,’” she said. “So I had to literally hop from there all the way to the gate. We’ve had fun here, we really have.”

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

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