LONDONDERRY - As Londonderry's first elected Democratic state representative in more than 100 years, Lisa Whittemore made history at last month's elections. Sworn into office late last week, Whittemore said she's hoping to also make some lasting, positive changes in her community and state in the coming years.
During the Londonderry Democrats' annual holiday brunch on Saturday morning at the Coach Stop Restaurant, those who helped Whittemore along the way met her warmly.
Whittemore, a former education reporter who sits on the Londonderry Budget Committee, said she knows she has challenging days ahead.
"I do understand my title is state representative, and I'm a representative for a very moderate community at that," Whittemore said on Saturday. "But I've always had a great relationship with most of our delegation, and we get along just fine."
As a Hungarian child who grew up watching black-and-white news footage of a revolution on distant shores, Whittemore said she'd often ask her adoptive parents what the fighting was all about.
"My parents told me those people wanted to be free," she recalled.
With a Republican mother and Democrat father, the conversations around the dinner table were quite memorable over the years.
Whittemore said the overall experience helped give her the ability to hear out both sides, something she strives to do to this day.
Moving to Londonderry in 1973, she lobbied for various issues and served on the town's school board.
Whittemore said she's a strong supporter of the Affordable Care Act, which deeply affected her family over the past year. Eighteen months after the family's Cobra coverage expired, her husband, Robert, was diagnosed with cancer.
"He'd wanted to wait until his Medicare coverage kicked in," Whittemore explained. "But with the Affordable Health Care Act, we were able to get on insurance despite Robert's pre-existing condition. He got the care he needed, and we didn't have to worry about the rising costs."
As a state representative, Whittemore vows to continue supporting affordable health care in the Granite State. She's also working on a bill that would make it mandatory for insurance money to be sent directly to the town following residents' ambulance trips.
As it stands now, insurance companies pay their clients' ambulance fees by sending a check directly to the patient.
"People don't always understand that this money is intended to pay their ambulance bill," said Whittemore. "So right now, there's a disconnect between the service provider and the patient."
Fellow Londonderry Democrats said they're excited about what the coming term will bring.
"It was a historic moment, for sure . and Lisa will do great things, for sure," Committee Chairman Tammy Siekmann said. Longtime committee member Marilyn Hoffman said she never thought she'd see a local Democrat at the State House.
"This is our first lobbying event with someone who can actually represent us in Concord," Hoffman said. "Lisa will speak for me, and hopefully we'll see some budget restoration and reasonable state government next year."
Later, the local Democrats honored another one of their own with the presentation of the first ever Fran Gehling Award.
Honoring the late Fran Gehling, an active party volunteer who perished in a house fire in April 2011, the award will be given annually to a local Democrat who embodies Gehling's strong sense of community activism. This year's award recipient was Jerry Connor.
"He literally put up every sign and took every sign down," said Siekmann. "He's been the backbone of so much for so many years."