August 02. 2014 9:24PM

Former NH first lady Catherine Gregg dies

New Hampshire Sunday News

Catherine Warner Gregg - philanthropist, businesswoman, gardener, dog lover, wife of one governor and mother of another - died Friday at her home at RiverWoods in Exeter.

She would have turned 97 on Aug. 15.

Mrs. Gregg was the widow of former Gov. Hugh Gregg, serving as New Hampshire's first lady from 1953 to 1955. Her son, Judd Gregg, served as a congressman, governor and U.S. senator.

On Saturday, speaking for his family, former Sen. Gregg said his mother was "an extraordinary person of exceptional energy who had a fascinating variety of interests, most of which revolved around making New Hampshire a better place to live and working with my father to do just that."

Mrs. Gregg is credited with helping to restore the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion in Portsmouth, the only original surviving residence of a Royal Governor in the United States. She was active in many other community organizations, including the New Hampshire Audubon Society, the Robert Frost Homestead and the White Mountain Arts and Music Festival.

Both his parents were community-oriented, Gregg said, and "a lot of people have benefited from their efforts over the years."

He said he and his brother, Cyrus, spent a great deal of time with their mother in her final days.

Gov. Maggie Hassan will direct flags to be flown at half-staff on the day of Mrs. Gregg's funeral, which will be private. In a statement, the governor said, "Tom and I were very saddened to learn about the passing of Catherine Gregg, who admirably served the people of New Hampshire as First Lady. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Gregg family and their loved ones...."

Former State Sen. Elaine Krasker of Portsmouth was the original chair of the Wentworth-Coolidge Commission. She served on the commission with Catherine Gregg for 10 years and was touched to learn that the family is asking that memorial contributions be sent to the organization.

"It certainly was a pleasure to work with her because she had a store of knowledge about the history of the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion, and she was so eager to see it restored," Krasker said. "And she was very responsible for making it happen."

Mrs. Gregg became a "very dear friend," she said, and "will be very missed."

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, said Catherine Gregg "was a devoted mother and wife who, as New Hampshire's First Lady, displayed the type of commitment and love for our state that eventually came to define the entire Gregg family."

"The fact that her service continued for decades after she and former Governor Gregg left office underscored just how deeply she cared about New Hampshire," Shaheen said in a statement. "My thoughts are with the Gregg family during this difficult time." 

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, said she was honored to have met Mrs. Gregg, calling her "an exceptional and strong woman of the highest character."

"The wife of a legendary governor and the mother of a true New Hampshire statesman, Mrs. Gregg was the matriarch of her family and she will always have a special place in our state's history," Ayotte said in a statement. "I join citizens across New Hampshire in mourning her loss, and Joe and I extend our deep sympathy and prayers to the Gregg family."

Joseph W. McQuaid, president and Publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News, called Mrs. Gregg "a beautiful, gracious woman who matched her husband in charm and political acumen."Although first lady of New Hampshire for just her husband's one term, she will long be remembered as a force in New Hampshire life," he said.

Long-time Republican political strategist Tom Rath said Mrs. Gregg "had a long and interesting and important life."

"She saw a lot, and loved her family and loved the state very much," Rath said.

In addition to her two sons, Mrs. Gregg had five grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren "and an eighth on the way," her son said.

Her obituary appears today on Page C13.