Ruth Meiers, North Dakota’s thirty-third Lieutenant Governor, passed away in office on this date in 1987. The state’s first female Lieutenant Governor, Meiers was diagnosed with lung and brain cancer in September of 1986. Despite the diagnosis, she continued to serve in office until her death six months later.
Meiers was born into a politically-active family in November of 1925. Her father served in the North Dakota State Senate for twenty years. After a career working in social services as a caseworker and welfare director, Meiers was elected as a state Representative in 1974. In 1984, she was drafted by the Democratic Women’s Caucus to be George Sinner’s running mate for the post of Lieutenant Governor. Sinner later said that Meiers “…didn’t even seek the job,” but that “the job sought [her].”
She and Sinner won the 1984 November election with over 55% of the popular vote. Once in office, her down-to-earth charm and easy manner easily won over opponents; when she became temporary acting governor while Sinner left the state, “…she was asked whether she should be addressed as ‘governor,’ ‘acting governor,’ or ‘lieutenant governor.’ She replied, ‘You can call me Ruth.’”
While serving in Bismarck, Meiers commuted home each weekend; for her, home was the farm and ranch she and her husband shared near Ross, North Dakota. It was where the couple raised five sons, including a foster child from Paraguay.
On September 9th, 1986, Meiers collapsed at her desk at the Capitol. She was rushed to the hospital, where doctors discovered malignant tumors in both her lung and brain. A life-long smoker, doctors attributed the aggressive cancer to cigarette smoking. The following month, Meiers appeared on The CBS Morning News to discuss the dangers of smoking, especially in women. She continued her work in Bismarck, working around her schedule of radiation therapy as she battled with her illness. In December, she even oversaw a special session of the State Legislature, where House Speaker Richard Kloubec shared the sentiments of many North Dakota lawmakers when he said that her “…courage was something for all of us to strive for.”
Only three months later, Meiers succumbed to her illness at the age of sixty-one.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job