SOUTH PORTLAND – Edith Beaulieu, a former Democratic legislator from Portland who fought tirelessly for education, labor and public safety issues, died Friday. She was 76.
A former longtime cleaning lady for the Portland Press Herald, Mrs. Beaulieu dived into city politics in the early 1970s when city officials proposed eliminating school crossing guards. She led the opposition and won.
“I was the first woman ever on Channel 13 to say, ‘Call ‘em all up and give ‘em hell,’ ” she recalled in a 2011 interview with Paul Mills, a freelance writer and lawyer in Farmington.
Mrs. Beaulieu went on to serve as spokesperson for the school department’s safety committee. She was later elected to the Portland School Committee. She served for three years and fought relentlessly to improve education and city schools.
Mrs. Beaulieu was a state representative for Munjoy Hill and the islands from 1976 to 1986. She served on the Joint Standing Committee on Labor for eight years, and was the first woman to serve as house chair. She also served four years on the Joint Legislative Committee for education.
In her 10 years as a legislator, she sponsored and co-sponsored more than 50 bills that are now law, including safety requirements for piers, wharfs and pilings, and for the quick demolition of unsafe buildings. She advocated for workers’ rights and laws to protect workers compensation and unemployment compensation, and lobbied for an $8 million and later $13 million bond to improve the state’s vocational technical institutes.
She also fought vigorously to make smoke detectors mandatory in apartments, hotels and motels. The house voted the bill down twice before it was approved in 1981.
“Edie was invariably candid, blunt, and certainly passionately determined about the causes she advocated for,” Mills said Friday. “She drew attention to some of the issues and was able to command attention because of her stride and personality. She wasn’t in the back row doing her knitting. She was somewhat insistent and strident.”
Mrs. Beaulieu was a central figure for the workers compensation reform bill in 1985. Mills’ story said she was caught in the middle of a contentious debate about skyrocketing health care premiums. The controversy “pitted many Democrats on one side and labor leaders on the other in an arena of intense sensitivity to both business and labor interests,” the story said. She tempered the proposal, and “wiping tears from her face at the time of passage,” voted for the compromise.
“She was very committed and sometimes emotional about the causes she became involved with,” Mills said. “She was a pioneering Franco-American feminist, who successfully challenged Portland political (leaders). She broke the mold and we won’t see the likes of her again.”
Outside the political arena, she was a loving wife to the late Edgar Beaulieu for 52 years. He died in 2009.
She was also a devoted mother to four children.
Mrs. Beaulieu had lived with her daughter, Susan O’Carroll, in South Portland since 1993. Her daughter said she admired her mother’s strength and courage.
“She was a fighter,” O’Carroll said. “She fought for whatever she believed in.”
Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: