Mignon Redfield Waterman died on April 6, 2017. She had warned that if her obituary were too long, she would rise from the dead. So, with fingers crossed, we are going to see if she keeps her word.
Born October 13, 1944, to Mable and Zell Redfield on the outskirts of Billings, Montana, Mignon was the fifth child, joining three brothers and a sister. She joined her brothers in delivering eggs and chickens all over town. Her lifelong commitment to public service was formed at an early age by her mother who encouraged her children to go to church and give back to the community.
Though Mignon was not raised in the Methodist Church (nor as a Democrat, her mother would have pointed out), she discovered a source of joy and community in Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF) that would last a lifetime. Several of the friends and leaders that she met, worshipped and worked with in those early years remained in close contact throughout her life. A highlight of her early church experience was a summer spent in Mexico, where she and her MYF friends helped build a grain silo and barn for enhanced storage capacity.
After graduating from Billings West High School in 1963, Mignon attended the University of Montana where she met Ron Waterman. They were married in 1965. Mignon and Ron lived adjacent to the First United Methodist Church in Missoula, working as janitors while Ron completed law school. They then moved to Billings where their oldest son, Briar, was born in October 1969. The following year they moved to Helena. Their second son, Kyle, was born there in 1975.
Mignon became active in community affairs shortly after moving to Helena. She served on the Civic Center Board to help preserve the building and acquire new chairs for the auditorium. She also assisted with numerous community celebrations at St. Peter’s Hospital, the City of Helena and the Montana Club. After observing the condition of broken-down playground equipment at the former Ray Bjork School, she asked a school board member if anything could be done to make it safer. The response? “Lady, if you want to do something about it, then you should run for the School Board.”
That was the spark. She wrote a grant to obtain funds for playground improvements and eventually ran for a position on the School Board. During the 12 years she served on the board, she saw construction of Four Georgians, the last elementary school building in Helena. She chaired the board, served as president of the Montana School Boards Association and was nominated to the National School Boards Association. She was always a strong and vocal supporter of school bond issues. While on the school board, Mignon also worked as a lobbyist for the Montana Association of Churches with a focus on mental health and human service issues.
In 1989 Mignon was elected to the Montana Senate, where she served with distinction for 12 years. As a freshman, she co-chaired the Health and Human Services subcommittee and continued her focus on education, especially to assure equitable funding for school districts across the state. She also worked successfully to advance mental health issues, including mental health parity, and address the needs of senior citizens. At the request of a constituent, she introduced and successfully sponsored passage of the Beer and Wine bill, allowing small restaurants to serve beer and wine without a full beverage license. She was amused that this legislation gained her such notoriety but always appreciated a glass of wine with dinner at her favorite restaurants.
Mignon received numerous awards for her public work on mental health and community service, including the Montana Mental Health Association award, the NAMI Distinguished Legislator Award, and the Carroll College Community Appreciation Award. In addition to her political work, she served on the Grandstreet Theatre Board, including a term as chair.
Following her retirement from the legislature in 2002, Mignon served on the Children’s Mental Health System of Care Committee and the Lewis and Clark County Welfare Task Force, with her service ending only upon her death. During her legislative career, she had drafted and carried a bill to require nonprofit insurance companies to create a foundation should they become for-profit corporations. The legislation did not pass when initially introduced but when it did several sessions later, a firm guideline was in place when Blue Cross Blue Shield converted to a for-profit corporation. The legislation led to creation of the Montana Health Care Foundation, which was entrusted with several million dollars to re-invest in Montana to help fund community-based health care projects. Mignon was appointed one of the first seven trustees and served on the foundation until her death. It was among her most prized accomplishments.
Mignon loved to cook and quilt. At the age of 15, she won the Montana State Cherry Pie contest, an accomplishment that drew a shy young girl into the larger community of Montana. She routinely donated gifts of food – ranging from decorative cakes to five-course meals – to charitable causes. Many friends and family felt blessed to receive her intricate and beautiful quilts in celebration of the wedding or newborn baby. Her quilts also became prized auction items that fetched high bids for numerous nonprofit organizations in Helena.
Mignon and Ron were married for nearly 52 years. Two summers ago, they celebrated their 50th anniversary with family and friends at Seeley Lake. They enjoyed hiking and travel, and spent time with new and old friends on numerous trips throughout the world. Mignon was a delegate to the Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995 and she and Ron traveled extensively there. They enjoyed trips to Turkey, England, New Zealand, Portugal, Germany and a river cruise along the Danube and Rhine. The had just returned from an adventure in Italy last October, where she was still hiking 10 miles a day (and enjoying roasted artichokes and pizza) when Mignon was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer.
Mignon was preceded in death by her parents, Mable and Zell Redfield, her brothers, Ron and Walt, and her niece, Pat. She is survived by her husband, Ron, her sons, Briar of Seattle and Kyle of Kalispell, and their partners, Teresa Goepfert and Steve Hunnell, grandchildren Elliot and Adelaide, brother, Darrell Young of Great Falls, her older sister, Pearl Scott, of Billings, and numerous nieces and nephews.
Services will be held at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Helena, at 1 p.m. on April 22, 2017. A reception will follow at the Holter Museum of Art, 12 E. Lawrence, Helena. In lieu of flowers, memorials in Mignon’s name could be made to NAMI Montana, Prickly Pear Land Trust, Grandstreet Theatre or the Ron and Mignon Civil Liberties Scholarship c/o University of Montana Foundation, Missoula.
Finally, in her honor, Mignon would ask all who loved and supported her to become involved in civic organizations that make our community what it is and to support “Yes for Helena Schools,” the current campaign to pass a school bond for Helena’s public schools.