It’s an oft-heard lament these days: Where is the late Margaret Chase Smith when we need her most?

Despair no longer. Next month, at the Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath, Maine’s matriarch for civility in politics will bring an hour or so of calm to the calamity of 2016.

“I think I know her in ways maybe other people don’t,” said Sally Jones, also known as Smith’s theatrical reincarnation, over a cup of coffee last week in the sun-splashed breakfast nook of her Norway home.

Know her? Give Sally Jones a few hours to put on her makeup, get her hair done just right, don the proper attire and warm up that unmistakable central Maine accent and something remarkable happens. Jones, 75, doesn’t just look and sound like the woman from Skowhegan who once schooled the entire nation on how to singlehandedly take on a demagogue – and win.

She becomes her.

Sally Jones in character as Margaret Chase Smith (Photo courtesy of Sally Jones)

Sally Jones in character as Margaret Chase Smith (Photo courtesy of Sally Jones)

“Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington,” a one-woman play by Maine playwright Linda Britt, first debuted in 2009 in Lewiston and has since been performed over 30 times by Jones in small theaters all over Maine.


She thought her most recent appearances two years ago would be her last. A retired high school English and drama teacher who still acts, directs and produces a variety of theatrical productions, Jones is one busy woman.

Besides, it gets lonely when you finish a show and the cast party consists of … well, you.

But then the Cosmopolitan Club of Bath and the Chocolate Church Arts Center, both of which will benefit from next month’s show, came calling.

“I think people are hungry for civility. They’re hungry to see people able to work together,” said Phyllis Bailey, a member of the all-women Cosmopolitan Club’s board of directors who talked Jones into a one-performance revival on Sunday, Oct, 9, at 2 p.m. (For tickets, go to or call 442-8455.)

Of course, added Bailey, there’s also plenty of current-day application for Smith’s famous “Declaration of Conscience” in 1950 against the red-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin – a speech that set the stage for McCarthy’s formal censure by the U.S. Senate four years later.

“At a time when it wasn’t very secure to do so – (Smith) was the only woman in the Senate – she stood up to someone who was being very indiscriminately destructive with his accusations against other people,” said Bailey.


Sound familiar? More on that in a minute.

So convincing is Jones as Smith that unexpected things happen as she first tells her life story and then, still in character, opens a question-and-answer session with her audience with the simple request: “I’m at a disadvantage. You know me but I don’t know you. So I would like you to tell me when our paths have crossed.”

At her first-ever performance in Lewiston back in 2009, then-Mayor Larry Gilbert stood up and introduced himself.

“Oh,” replied the senator. “How nice to see you, Larry.”

“I went to your funeral,” deadpanned Gilbert.

“Everybody cracked up, including me,” recalled Jones. “And I thought, ‘This is my first time improvising in character.’ ”


Without missing a beat, the senator asked Hizzoner, “How did I look?”

At other times, however, the audience connection has been no laughing matter.

There was the woman who lingered after a show in Gardiner until everyone had left and then approached the senator to quietly remind her, “I was once your secretary.”

An older man with an accent proudly approached a stage in Lewiston and recalled for the senator how he’d come to the United States long ago to learn to be a doctor, how his visa had expired, how she’d helped him avoid returning to a country that “was not a good place to be,” how he’d later brought his parents and brothers and sisters over and how they were now all doctors and college professors, contributing mightily to American society.

“And so,” the doctor said, “I just came to thank you.”

An elderly widow, also with a bit of an accent, rose from the second row in South Paris, slowly squeezed her way past her seatmates, actually came up onto the stage and took the senator’s hand in her own.


“I was a German war bride,” the woman said. “And after the war, my husband came home and I wasn’t allowed to. And you brought me here. And I just want to thank you for this wonderful country that I’ve been able to live in.”

As she made her way back to her seat, the woman embraced every person in her row. Looking out from the stage, Jones watched many in the audience wiping tears from their eyes.

Ah, but just around the corner from the poignant past lurks the irksome present. The implicit ground rule – that Mrs. Smith can only discuss the world she knew – begs to be broken.

“What do you think of Sarah Palin?” asked one audience member back in 2012.

Dramatic pause.

“One of the things that I always did is I studied all issues before I voted,” the senator finally replied graciously. “And I don’t feel I’ve studied her as much as I could.”


Artful dodge. What exactly was she trying to avoid?

“Being on the internet,” replied Jones.

Meaning, she explained, the last thing she’d ever want is to see is a viral YouTube video showing the spitting image of Margaret Chase Smith, who died in 1995 at the age of 97, offering a lesson in civil discourse to Sarah Palin … or now Donald Trump … or, for that matter, Maine Gov. Paul LePage.

“Because she would have studied everything,” said Jones. “And if she thought her country was in trouble, then she would speak out. But how do I know? How do we know? We can surmise, but we can’t say for sure.”

Of course, today’s political climate is hot and only going to get hotter. And while Jones is loath to disclose how she feels about the headlines competing for the top of Page 1 lately, she knows it will be harder than ever this time to resist that tug-of-war between Maine’s history and its future.

So she has a plan.

Rather than let us drag her forward, she just might take us back. Make way for Sen. Margaret Chase Smith …

“I was new in the Senate, but there were things going on that were making me highly uncomfortable,” she said in that hauntingly familiar voice. “Mr. McCarthy, Joseph McCarthy, was making accusations and he had … no … evidence! And the cornerstone of our country, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights … were under attack and no one would say anything. Can you imagine?”

Yes, Madam Senator. Yes we can.

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