Linda Abromson, a former Portland mayor and longtime force in city affairs, died Thursday at Maine Medical Center. She was 78.

Abromson had been in intensive care after heart surgery, her family said. She leaves behind three children and seven grandchildren ranging in age from 9 to 26.

Abromson served on the Portland school board and City Council in the 1970s and ’80s, and remained engaged in city affairs, the arts and education, said Lori Abromson Ruland, a daughter.

One of the first things Abromson did when she was elected to the City Council in 1980 was spearhead an initiative to stop charging women 5 cents to use the restroom at the Portland Jetport, Ruland said, adding that men got to use theirs for free. She was later chosen by her fellow councilors to serve a one-year term as mayor and went on to help lead the transformation of Portland’s Old Port and become a tireless advocate for Portland’s Jewish community. An avid golfer, she once scored a hole-in-one on the golf course.

‘A FORCE’

But removing the restroom fee at the airport was her first major accomplishment as a councilor, her daughter said. “It’s a small thing, but for her it was really big,” Ruland said. “She kept one of those machines they used to have on the door.”

Ruland said people have called her mom “a force.” She says it’s an apt description.

“She did not back down. If she felt something was important to get done, it got done,” said Ruland, 55. “She had an infallible sense of fair and right and wrong. She didn’t see a lot of gray. She had a very strict moral code that she adhered to and expected everyone in her world to adhere to the same code.”

Ruland said her mom succumbed after spending five weeks in intensive care at Maine Medical Center trying to recover from heart surgery. She was surrounded by family, who played her favorite song, “Earth Angel” by The Penguins, as she passed away.

“It was a special moment,” Ruland said.

Abromson was first elected to the Portland School Committee in 1974. After six years, she was elected to the City Council, where she served four, three-year terms. She was an avid fan of the Boston Red Sox, and could score an entire game, Ruland said. She was even a bat girl for a semi-pro team that her father played on.

Cheryl Leeman served with Abromson on the City Council. Leeman said Abromson was instrumental in setting the course that turned Portland’s empty downtown storefronts and seedy Old Port bars into a world-class destination for art lovers and foodies by advocating for federal grants to rehabilitate Congress Square and helping to land the Portland Sea Dogs baseball team.

“We just wanted to place Portland in a different position because it desperately needed some help,” Leeman said. “We felt that the arts were really important. That started a huge movement with regards to capitalizing on federal money that was available to transform Portland.”

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

After stepping down from elected office, Abromson served for nine years on the Maine Human Rights Commission.

Abromson loved theater and continued to support the arts and education. The University of Southern Maine’s Abromson Center was named after her and her late husband, Joel, who was elected to four terms in the Maine Senate, where he advocated for anti-discrimination legislation and affordable health care.

“It was very important to my mother that people understand that she did not buy that name,” Ruland said, noting that none of her mom’s financial contributions would have warranted such an action. “They approached her and wanted to do this out of respect for my dad and my mother.”

In a political sense, it was an odd pairing.

“She was a lifelong Democrat and my dad was lifelong Republican,” she said. “But they agreed on almost everything. Both were moderate and thoughtful people. They let common sense dictate and not partisan politics.”

Ruland said her mom loved to travel and was an active volunteer in the community. She led 30 different groups on visits to Israel and was part of the first group of American Jews to travel to Poland in the early 1970s to bear witness to the atrocities the Nazis committed in concentration camps.

It was a life-changing experience.

“It changed her and it really had a huge impact on the rest of her life. She traveled the country speaking about her experience and what she learned,” Ruland said. “She really spent the rest of her life publicly speaking about that so we would never forget.”

Abromson split her time between Portland and Sarasota, Florida, where she would continue to keep her finger on the pulse of local politics.

Ruland said that even though her mother could barely talk while in the hospital, she made it clear she wanted to know what happened during Portand’s elections.

“She mouthed the word, election,” Ruland said. “We made sure we let her know what happened.”

There will be a memorial service at 11 a.m. Monday at Temple Beth El, 400 Deering Ave.

Ruland said her mom will be laid to rest next to her husband, whose tombstone says: “He made a difference.” And the family plans on honoring her mom’s longtime desire to have her own inscription, saying: “So did she.”

“And it will,” Ruland said, “because she did.”

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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