Written by Samantha Turner
Former Rhode Island Secretary of State Susan Farmer died Monday at the age of 71 after a long battle with cancer. She was the first woman to be elected to the office in Rhode Island and the first woman to hold statewide general office. Following her stint in public office, she went on to run and operate the Rhode Island PBS (WSBE) for 17 years.
“She was a pioneer in politics and local public television,” said James H. Leach, chairman of the Rhode Island PBS Foundation. “Her enduring legacy is one of strength and grit with style and grace.”
Farmer was first elected to office in 1982 and became the first Republican elected as Secretary of State in 44 years. In a press release, current Secretary of State Ralph A. Mollis called Farmer a “political trailblazer.” She was a champion of gender equality in politics.
“She was a woman of great courage and political leadership, serving as a role model for Rhode Island women throughout the state who aspire to participate in politics at the level of statewide elected office,” said Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts. “She has made a lasting impression on me and so many of my peers.
She served a second term before moving on to head the state’s public broadcasting station, helping to revive the station. During her tenure, fundraising grew by 58 percent and viewership skyrocketed. She was also instrumental in creating WSBE’s flagship political affairs program, A Lively Experiment, in 1987.