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The incredible life of Rose Mofford, Arizona’s first female governor

Former Arizona Gov. Rose Mofford is shown. (Screenshot)

PHOENIX — The first woman to serve as Arizona’s governor, Rose Mofford, passed way Thursday morning. She was 94.

While many shared memories of her calm political hand that influenced Arizona in the late 1980s following the impeachment of Gov. Evan Mecham, Mofford’s life was hardly defined by politics alone.

She was more than a former governor. She was a businesswoman, an incredible athlete and an Arizona native.

“I’m just a small-town girl who stayed small-town,” she was quoted as saying. “People are my bag. By doing and helping, it makes me one of the good ol’ girls.”

To honor Mofford’s life, I did a little research online to bring you the facts below. I hope it will help you have a more complete understanding of the woman who was Rose Mofford.

Arizona was home

Mofford was an Arizonan through and through. She was born June 10, 1922 in Globe, about 90 miles east of the state capitol building where she would later serve.

Former Arizona Gov. Rose Mofford is shown as a child. (Screenshot)

Former Arizona Gov. Rose Mofford is shown as a child. (Screenshot)

She was born to John and Francis Perica, both immigrants from Austria-Hungary, and was the youngest of six children. Her father worked as a hoist engineer in the copper mines and her mother cooked and sewed.

“I attribute my success to my parents,” she said in a 2010 YouTube video, adding that she received her passion for politics from her parents.

Mofford attended Globe High School, where she not only served as the school’s first female student body president, but became an accomplished athlete in softball and basketball.

She was also was chosen as the most outstanding student and class valedictorian.


While attending Globe High, Mofford was contacted by the Cantaloupe Queens, an all-female amateur softball team.

Former Arizona Gov. Rose Mofford is shown during her softball days. (Screenshot)

Former Arizona Gov. Rose Mofford is shown during her softball days. (Screenshot)

She played 20 games with the team, crossing 33 state lines in the process. She even played three games at the world-famous Madison Square Garden in New York City.

“I attribute all of my success — besides my parents, of course — to sports,” she said in the YouTube video.

But that was far from the end of Mofford’s athletic accomplishments. She later became an All-American in softball and turned down an offer from the All American Red Heads, one of the first professional women’s basketball teams.

She also helped save the Cactus League. When it looked like several teams would move their spring training operations to Florida, she signed off on special funding and created a commission to keep the teams in place.

Mofford has twice been inducted into the Arizona Softball Hall of Fame and the Cactus League Hall of Fame to boot.

Making a splash in politics

Though she is most famous for serving as Arizona’s first woman governor, Mofford’s career in public service began 47 years prior to her taking the helm of the state.

Mofford was hired out of high school by State Treasurer Joe Hunt and moved to Phoenix. She was his secretary.

Former Arizona Gov. Rose Mofford is shown working as a secretary for then-Arizona Treasurer Joe Hunt. (Screenshot)

Former Arizona Gov. Rose Mofford is shown working as a secretary for then-Arizona Treasurer Joe Hunt. (Screenshot)

She had planned on accepting a scholarship to the University of Arizona to study psychiatry, but was sidetracked by the outbreak of World War II.

When Hunt moved up to the Arizona Tax Commission, she followed him. After taking a short break to work as the business manager for “Arizona Highways” magazine in 1945 — where she rolled out full-color issues and increased circulation by about 100,000 — Mofford returned to the tax commission as an executive secretary in 1947.

Mofford was fired by incoming Commissioner Thad Moore in 1960, who preferred to have a man do her job.

But Mofford landed on her feet. She was hired by Secretary of State Wesley Bolin — the longest-serving secretary of state in Arizona history — and stayed put until 1975, when she became the assistant director of the State Revenue Department.

When Bolin took over the governorship following the resignation of Raul Castro in 1977, he appointed Mofford to take over as secretary of state. Thirty-six years after entering public work, Mofford’s career in elected office had begun.

Mofford, a Democrat, served as secretary of state until 1988. She was the first woman to be elected to the office and was re-elected twice more.

While in office, she modernized the state’s election system and gained a reputation for being an empathetic, witty woman capable of laughing at her own expense and who got things done.

It was during her fourth term in office when she would replace then-Gov. Evan Mecham, who was impeached.

Former Arizona Gov. Rose Mofford is shown on April 4, 1988, the day she was sworn into office. (Screenshot)

Former Arizona Gov. Rose Mofford is shown on April 4, 1988, the day she was sworn into office. (Screenshot)

Over the next two years, Mofford would become a symbol for bipartisan politics. She brought a sense of calm to a state that was reeling from accusations of obstruction of justice and misuse of government funds that were leveled at Mecham.

While in office, Mofford signed the bill to create a paid holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and led the state through an economic downturn and subsequent housing collapse. Mofford created several groups designed to fight drug use in the state, particularly among children.

She also advocated for economic improvement, the elderly, the disabled and children.

She was loved by state workers. Known affectionately around the Capitol as “Auntie Rose,” she spent some of her first weeks in office visiting employees. She sent more than 30,000 staffers a letter in their paychecks thanking them for their work and ensuring none would be fired when she took office.

Mofford did not seek a full-term election. She left public office when her term as governor expired in 1990.

That’s tasty, Rose!

Mofford did not call it a career after she left the public sphere. She spent her latter years supporting charities (more on that later) and working several different jobs, some of which were in politics.

But few know about her appreciation for salsa. Mofford trademarked her own brand, Rose’s Salsa, in 1996. The company was based in Tucson, but further details online were rather sparse.

While it appears that Rose’s is no longer available in stores, those who want to get a taste need only head to Sierra Bonita Grill, near Glendale Avenue and Seventh Street, in Phoenix. It was her favorite restaurant.

Mofford sometimes dined there twice a day and had her own table with her name on it.

Doing good in the community

Helping people was a theme for Mofford and that carried over to her time outside of politics as well.

Former Arizona Gov. Rose Mofford meets with community members. (Screenshot)

Former Arizona Gov. Rose Mofford meets with community members. (Screenshot)

As previously mentioned, Mofford cared greatly for the elderly, the disabled and children. She served on many boards and committees and worked with foundations to improve lives, including the Mercy Care Foundation, the Crime Prevention League and the Lion’s Sight and Hearing Foundation.

Mofford said that she was still receiving calls — her number was in the phone book — well after she left office from schoolchildren doing a report on her. She corresponded with them about her life and help them with school projects.

Because of her work, she received numerous awards, including the Distinguished Public Servant and Dedicated Humanitarian Award from St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and  2011 Arizona Woman of the Year.

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