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Hartford - Calling her the "Iron Lady of southeastern Connecticut," the "matriarch," and the "den mother" of the state Senate, lawmakers on Tuesday honored state Sen. Andrea Stillman, who in March announced that after nearly 22 years of service, she would not seek re-election in November.
"I think I am a prime example of when an opportunity arises, what the heck, just see if you can do it," Stillman said. "I never in my wildest dreams thought I would run for an elected office or be a part of the state Senate."
More than a few lawmakers said Stillman, a Waterford Democrat, initially scared them because they soon realized that if they proposed "willy-nilly legislation," she would have tough questions for them. Many spoke of her practicality and powerful advocacy for children. She was also recognized as a mentor who set the standard for how to behave in the General Assembly.
State Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, said that as a freshman legislator he proposed a bill to improve rail service to the city of New London and was "thinking I was doing something new of course."
But Stillman had been working on that type of initiative for many years, he said. She called Maynard and asked, "Why did you put a piece of legislation to increase rail traffic to my district and not include me on it?" he said. "It was just one of many gentle lessons I was taught."
Stillman first was elected to the 38th District House seat in 1992, succeeding former longtime state Rep. Janet Polinsky. In 2005, Stillman became the 20th District senator, serving East Lyme, Montville, New London, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, Salem, Waterford and Bozrah.
She has served as a co-chairman of the finance, revenue and bonding committee and currently is co-chairman of the education committee, vice chairman of the transportation committee and chairman of the general bonding subcommittee.
Last year, despite facing a health issue, she continued to advocate for residents, state Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester, said.
"Quite honestly she probably shouldn't have taken the time, but she put children first," Cassano said.
In March, Stillman said she overcame that health issue and wanted to spend time with her family.
"As she has been battling for education quality in the state, she has been also very courageously battling for her health and on that she has won that battle," state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, said.
Stillman was a primary architect of the public education reforms in 2012, which increased pre-kindergarten seats, and required annual reading assessments for students in kindergarten through grade 3 and funding for charter schools.
"You started reform that is ultimately going to end the achievement gap in Connecticut and bring us to a new quality of education in Connecticut, and that is a legacy that few of us can have," state Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, said.
State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, and state Sen. Danté Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, each thanked Stillman for showing them the ropes during their first terms.
"Andrea, I don't think there is a better role model than you for how we have respectful conversation on the floor," Dante said.
State Sen. Scott Frantz, R-Riverside, said Stillman did not waste anyone's time and that when she spoke, one could hear a pen drop because everyone was listening.
"I don't ever think you have cared that much about the limelight; you care much more about getting it right because you take it seriously," said state Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford.