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News of Eileen Foley's passing in Portsmouth saddens state

Union Leader Correspondent

February 22. 2016 7:31PM
Eileen Foley looks on at a photo of herself at the original ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Memorial Bridge between New Hampshire and Maine. She was there to cut the ribbon again when the bridge reopened on Aug. 9, 2013. (UNION LEADER FILE)

PORTSMOUTH — Former eight-term Mayor Eileen Foley died Monday, just five days before her 98th birthday, Mayor Jack Blalock said.

“She was the best mayor Portsmouth ever had,” Blalock said. “She championed everybody, the old and young alike.”

As news of Foley’s passing spread on social media, Raymond Buckley, chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said he was saddened. He called Foley, “one of New Hampshire’s greatest citizens and a beloved New Hampshire Democrat.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., released a statement, saying, “Billy and I were very saddened to learn of the passing of Eileen Foley, and our thoughts today are with her daughter, Mary Carey, and the entire Foley family ... Eileen was a trailblazer for women in politics. I fondly remember all the wonderful advice she gave me as I prepared for my first term in the state Senate. I will dearly miss Eileen’s charm, wisdom and can-do spirit.”

Foley was born in Portsmouth Feb. 27, 1918. She graduated from Syracuse University in New York and served in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II.

Foley was one of four daughters born to Charles and Mary Carey Dondero, the first female mayor of Portsmouth.

Foley was well known locally as the little girl who cut the silk ribbon opening the Memorial Bridge between Portsmouth and Kittery, Maine, on Aug. 17, 1923.

At 5 years old, she took the first official ride high above the Piscataqua River with the governors of New Hampshire and Maine as thousands of onlookers waited to cross the new bridge, which cost $2 million to build.

The bridge was closed in 2011, for replacement. On Aug. 9, 2013, Foley cut the ribbon at the bridge’s reopening, almost 90 years after her first ribbon cutting.

Foley dedicated herself to serving her community and state, following in her mother’s footsteps and serving as Portsmouth’s mayor from 1968-71, 1984-85 and 1988-1997.

“It is a sad day for Portsmouth; Eileen Foley was living proof that we are the ‘City of the Open Door,’” Mayor Jack Blalock said in a statement. “During her time as mayor, her door was always open to everybody. I will miss her humor and her compassion.”

Foley also served the city as an ambassador, making trips to Portsmouth’s sister cities in Japan, Ireland and England.

“(Foley) was not only an incredible advocate for the Seacoast Region in New Hampshire, but also around the globe by helping to establish sister cities and international trade. So much of the local progress made in e-commerce, tourism and historic preservation can be traced back to Eileen’s leadership and foresight,” Shaheen said.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., also released a statement about Foley’s passing.

“Her many contributions will leave an enduring legacy for years to come, and she will be greatly missed by all those whose lives she touched,” Ayotte said.

Foley was elected as a state senator from the 24th District for seven terms and held the position of minority leader for one term.

In 1948, she married John J. Foley. They had three children together. John J. Foley died in 1994.

Gov. Maggie Hassan said that Foley was “beloved in Portsmouth and across the state.” “She reflected the spirit of public service that makes our state as strong as granite, and she is an important figure in our history of female leadership in New Hampshire,” Hassan said in a statement.

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