Mary Groves Bland, an advocate for minorities and expanded health services in her more than two decades in the Missouri legislature, died following complications from seizures caused by Alzheimer’s disease, her children said. She was 80.
Three of Bland’s children told The Associated Press the former Kansas City Democratic lawmaker died Friday at a hospice center in Chattanooga, Tenn., where she had been living.
Senators held a moment of silence in her memory Monday after her death was announced by state Sen. Kiki Curls, who holds Bland’s former seat.
Bland first was elected to the Missouri House in 1980 and served there until winning a special Senate election in 1998. Her Senate term ended in January 2005.
Bland was former president of Freedom Inc., an influential black political club in Kansas City. She was active in the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus throughout her career and instrumental in holding an annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at the Capitol.
Curls and Bland’s children described her as an advocate for mental health and health services, as well as minorities. Her daughter Arletha Bland-Manlove said she was an “extraordinary public servant” who earned respect from residents in her area.
“One of the most important things that she always wanted people to know was that she was here to help, and she was a servant of God,” said former state Rep. Craig Bland, who served in the legislature with his mother for several years.
Her son Rodney Bland now works as a lobbyist. She’s also survived by her daughter Pamela Bland, as well as many grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Her children said she pushed young people to go to college and participate in public service. Curls and Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a Democrat from the St. Louis area, both said Bland had mentored them.
Bland’s accomplishments as a lawmaker include sponsoring a law requiring businesses that sell liquor to post warnings that alcohol can cause birth defects. She also pushed for universal health care measures and a moratorium on the death penalty, though those didn’t pass.
“She was very motivated by what she believed to be right,” Curls said.
A funeral service is scheduled for March 5 at St. James United Methodist Church in Kansas City. A wake is set for March 4 at Watkins Heritage Chapel.