Longtime state rep. from Hanover leaves legacy of feistiness
Published: 02-12-2024 10:16 PM
Modified: 02-16-2024 11:04 AM
HANOVER — Sharon Nordgren, a longtime state representative who died on Saturday at age 80, is being remembered by friends and colleagues as a passionate and dedicated public servant and a highly effective political leader.
Nordgren, D-Hanover, was serving her 18th consecutive term as a state representative when she died, making her one of the longest serving members in Concord.
Born in Chicago in 1943, she moved to Hanover with her husband, Richard Nordgren, a physician, in 1972. Nordgren, who represented Grafton’s 12th District, first won election to the state House of Representatives in 1988. She was a longtime member of the House Finance Committee, on which she had served up until her death.
“She was an absolutely incredible legislator,” state Rep. Susan Almy, D-Lebanon, another longtime lawmaker, said. “It’s hard to believe that she’s no longer with us. She served Hanover and the state very well.”
Almy noted Nordgren possessed a deep knowledge of subjects ranging from state finances to public health to social services.
Former Hanover town manager Julia Griffin said that she frequently sought Nordgren’s insight regarding town-related matters due to Nordgren’s knowledge of the community.
“She was someone you would want to check in with about (town issues) because she knew a little bit about everything,” Griffin said.
Nordgren formed connections with people from the medical community to Dartmouth College to the town schools, Griffin said. Nordgren was an avid walker and was a regular presence downtown as well as on the Dartmouth campus.
While a strong advocate of responsible state budgeting, Nordgren fought for adequate funding of schools, especially in less-affluent communities, and to make health insurance accessible and affordable to citizens, according to a Valley News profile of her candidacy in 2004.
Nordgren also advocated strongly for stronger gun regulations, including a ban on assault rifles.
Longtime friend and former state Sen. Peter Hoe Burling, of Cornish, served 12 years with Nordgren in the state House of Representatives between 1988 and 2004. She served six years as Burling’s deputy advisor during his eight years as House Minority Leader from 1996 to 2004.
“We were a team from the get-go,” Burling said in a phone interview. “And we were the best of friends. She was supportive and had my back and when she thought I was wrong she wasn’t afraid to point it out.”
Nordgren’s knowledge and effectiveness was bolstered by her strong understanding of the machinations of government, both at the state and local levels, Burling said.
Before becoming a state representative, Nordgren had served on the Hanover Selectboard, including as the chairwoman.
“She knew how to get (legislation passed) and do it effectively,” Burling said.
And Nordgren was often “feisty” when it came to partisan political fights, noted former state Sen. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover.
“That’s how you gain respect and get things done (in politics),” Hennessey said in an interview. “Playing nice doesn’t get you a lot. You have to be passionate and not willing to compromise.”
Jim Rubens, a Hanover resident and former Republican state senator, said he rarely agreed with Nordgren on policy issues and even clashed on subjects such as public funding for charter schools, which Rubens championed.
But Rubens, chairman of the Upper Valley Republicans, said he appreciates Nordgren’s dedication to public service, even if they were at odds politically.
“Eighteen terms in a volunteer position is a phenomenal commitment to her constituency,” Rubens said.
Rubens and Nordgren found bipartisan agreement in their opposition of expanding casino gambling in New Hampshire, including a bill in 2014 that sought to legalize two casinos sharing a total of 5,000 video slot machines and 240 table games. The bill was defeated narrowly in the House, by a vote of 173-172.
Burling said that Nordgren’s health began to decline last November, shortly after a birthday party he hosted for her at his home the previous month — though he said he did not know the specifics of her illness.
Almy said that Nordgren has been absent from legislative sessions since the beginning of this year.
Hanover Town Manager Alex Torpey said that town staff were saddened to learn of Nordgren’s passing.
“I know she was a longtime friend of Hanover and the Upper Valley and of many here in the community, and I know her presence in Concord will be missed by many,” Torpey said in an email on Monday.
Nordgren’s seat will remain vacant for the remainder of the year.
State statute sets a cutoff date of March 15 during an election year to hold a special election to fill a state representative vacancy. Voters in Hanover and Lyme will elect a new representative to fill Grafton’s District 12 seat in November.
Patrick Adrian may be reached at 603-727-3216.