Audrey Cleary, a Democrat who served District 49 in the North Dakota House of Representatives from 1991-97 and 1999-2003, and who family members describe as a “doer with a strong faith” and “an advocate for change,” died Tuesday.
In her 88 years of life, the Bismarck resident also took on the roles of wife, mother to 11 children, grandmother to 33 and labor and delivery nurse, and was a “very” active church and community member.
“She wasn’t one to sit and to watch things go by,” said Mary Quinlin, Cleary’s daughter who lives in Iowa Falls, Iowa. “She did tireless work, was a super volunteer and, if anything needed to be done, she was willing to take care of it.”
For 59 years, Cleary was a member of Bismarck’s Cathedral of the Holy Spirit Church. Quinlin said her mom’s faith was very important to her, and she often would counsel and support women facing unplanned pregnancies, give people rides to church and sew garments for nursing home residents.
Cleary decided to run for office once her children had grown and left home.
“She had raised her family and figured she could now do something more,” Quinlin said, noting her mom enjoyed visiting with and listening to her constituents and was a strong believer in door-to-door campaigning.
Rep. Bob Martinson, R-Bismarck, who served alongside Cleary in the House, said she was a “tireless campaigner.”
“I knocked on every door, she knocked on them twice. She was out there all the time knocking on doors,” he said. “She was a good legislator. We didn’t always agree on issues, but she was very gracious and lovely to work with.”
Quinlin says her mom and dad, Joseph, who died in 2013, made an “awesome” home for their family. Every summer during her childhood, the family of 13 would pile into their large van, which didn’t have air conditioning, and head east to Lake Michigan, where they’d spend two weeks swimming, enjoying campfires, playing softball and spending time with cousins.
“It was such a gift our parents gave us to have that experience,” Quinlin said, noting how difficult it must have been to pack for 11 children and then spend two days driving a van full of kids in order to reach their destination.
In the 1970s, the Cleary family took full advantage of “family hour” at Bismarck’s Hillside Pool, according to Quinlin.
“We would load up the van, head to the pool and swim for over an hour. It didn’t matter if it was bad weather or cold. Sometimes, we’d have the pool to ourselves,” she said. “When we got home, we’d take our swimsuits and towels — 11 of them — and hang them on the clothesline. Mom always had dinner ready for us then, too. She didn’t have to do that.”
Cleary, who had dementia, spent her final two years at Bismarck’s St. Vincent Care Center, where she previously volunteered for many years.
Mass of Christian burial will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, 519 Raymond St. Visitation is slated for 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Friday at St. Vincent’s, 1021 N. 26th St., and 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at the University of Mary Chapel, 7500 University Drive, where a Catholic Daughters rosary/vigil service will begin at 7 p.m.