Virginia Lemon, a state senate candidate at 80, died Saturday

Virginia Lemon, a state senate candidate at 80, died Saturday

Virginia Lemon, who took on veteran Lenn Hannon in 2002's state Senate race at age 80, was considered by friends and political allies as a woman of intelligence and courage who mounted her campaign at an advanced age because she believed other candidates weren't taking positions on the difficult issues of the day.

A longtime member of the Democratic Party of Jackson County, Lemon died Saturday at her Ashland home after a long illness. She was 85.

"She was an absolute tower of integrity," said friend Ragan Cavanaugh of Ashland. "She jumped into that Senate race because no one was taking positions on the important issues. It's a great loss. They don't make them like her anymore. You could always count on her to make the independent decisions, based on thought and reason, that were good for everyone."

Lemon was educational and cultural affairs attaché for the U.S. State Department, serving in Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Burma and the Pacific Islands. She was women's activities adviser for the U.S. Information Agency. She retired in 1978 and moved to Ashland in 1986.

Former Ashland Mayor Cathy Shaw remembered Lemon as "an extraordinary, inspiring person" whose first run for public office was "just perfect — I loved it."

"It's not age but attitude that counts," Shaw said, "and she was a great leader."

In her announcement of candidacy in 2002, Lemon, party vice-chairman, expressed dismay with the Republican Senate majority, including Hannon, which by one vote failed to send the state budget back to the House for increased funding of education, human services, roads and parks. She added that if term limits are supposed to bring wisdom and experience, then in this case "something went terribly wrong."

She added, "this same group wants to balance the budget on the backs of the poor, our children, the aged, and the disabled. This is no way to run a state."

Don Wells of Medford, who worked with Lemon on the county Democratic committee, said, "I marveled that at that age, anyone could step in and try to run. She was very knowledgeable, stately and intelligent, always with wise things to say."

Longtime friend and political ally Jean Maack of Medford noted that Lemon "was a very caring and determined person who could be depended on to get in there and work hard — and not let an office go by without a Democratic candidate. She was quite a gal."

Lemon's first concern was education. In memory of her husband's work in environmental education and biology, she established the Paul C. and Virginia Lemon Endowed Fellowship at Southern Oregon University. It supports women doing postgraduate work in ecology and environmental studies.

She got her bachelor's degree from Grinnell College in Iowa, her master's from Columbia University Teacher's College and her doctorate from the University of Maryland.

Funeral arrangements are in care of Litwiller-Simonsen Funeral Home of Ashland.

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