Kathy Sullivan is the former chairwoman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party.
Judy Reardon was one of the best people I knew. When she passed away on December 16, New Hampshire lost one of its smartest and toughest political strategists, and many of us also lost a loyal, funny and caring friend.
She was witty and sharply intelligent. Attending Dartmouth College and the University of Pennsylvania Law School honed those natural abilities. While she was Ivy educated, however, growing up in Manchester gave her political practicality and a no baloney attitude. The combination of Ivy education and Manchester grit made her a sought-after advisor and consultant to a potpourri of local, state and national candidates.
After law school, Judy served a couple of terms in the New Hampshire House of Representatives while practicing law with McLane, Graff, Raulerson and Middleton. She then tried public interest law with the New Hampshire Public Defender for three years. After a client tried to excuse a crime involving a child, she told him to get out of her office, making her realize it was time to move on.
Although I knew Judy from Manchester and local politics, we really became friends as supporters of Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt’s 1988 presidential campaign. It was a very small group of supporters, but the friendships made on that campaign were lasting. It was not easy then, being a New Hampshire Democrat but working on unsuccessful campaigns was excellent training for the successes to come.
In 1996, Judy began working on Jeanne Shaheen’s first gubernatorial campaign. Early on, she came to me for a donation. She looked at the check and said, “I promise you that not a penny will be wasted.”
When the chairmanship of the New Hampshire Democratic Party opened up, Judy encouraged me to run. I frequently called for her opinion. She was always right.
Her devotion to Jeanne Shaheen is well known. In her capacity as legal counsel to the Governor, and subsequently counsel to the Senator, she was somewhat feared by Republicans and those Democrats who were not always supportive of Shaheen. When Manchester Democrats roasted Judy at their annual (and raucous) St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast, Governor Shaheen’s chastened primary rival Mark Fernald, who had faced the wrath of Judy, compared her to Rasputin. She took that with good humor.
Judy and I had an election day ritual – visiting the Manchester wards as a flying voter protection squad. Judy would carry a clipboard and pretend to take notes talking to Democratic sign holders, while I glared at the Republican side.
There were never any major issues on our watch!
On election day in 2006, we called campaign managers Mike Vlacich and Nick Clemons for the 10 a.m. turnout numbers. They reported the numbers were not what they should be. Judy and I went into a severe depression. A few hours later we called again, and they said, oh, everything’s fine, no worries.
I am not sure they know how close they came to death for not calling us to tell us that hours earlier.
Judy was a big part of New Hampshire turning blue that night.
Her life was not all politics. She liked to travel. For example, Judy, her sister, state Representative Patty Cornell and Patty’s husband Rik, went on an Amazon cruise and on a trip to Africa. She loved animals, especially her cat Huey. She liked to watch television. Only a month ago Judy, our friend Liz Purdy and I were texting about what to watch. She liked science fiction; she had a collection of DVDs for the series V.
One of the activities she was able to enjoy during the covid pandemic was going to see Liz Purdy and Mike Vlacich’s daughters play softball. She volunteered with the local literacy program, and also was a member of the Manchester Waterworks Commission.
She was a loyal friend, and people were loyal to Judy. After her leukemia diagnosis about 11 years ago, Senator John Kerry called to offer to put her in touch with the doctors who treated him when he had cancer. This fall, when Judy’s health began to decline, Senator Shaheen picked up Greek food at the Glendi festival in Manchester and delivered it to her house.
One night, when she was confined to her home as her health declined, she texted me that she was reading poetry, and thinking about her father, and how hard he worked.
Her death has crushed a number of young people she mentored over the years, as well as her friends.
Judy was only 64. She is missed.