Melodie Peters, former state senator, labor leader, remembered as a mentor
Old Lyme ― Melodie Peters, who served six terms in the state Senate while residing in Waterford and later became president of AFT Connecticut, a federation of local unions representing more than 29,000 public and private sector employees, died July 31. She was 76.
Her husband, Earl Peters, a former Seaside Regional Center administrator, died in March.
State Sen. Jan Hochadel, D-Meriden, the current AFT Connecticut president, shared news of Peters’ death with union members.
“Her legacy of labor leadership, public service and civic engagement ran deep, including the inspiration for many of us to step up and run for union office ourselves,” Hochadel said in a statement. “... Let’s also commit to never forget the strength and solidarity Melodie displayed during her tenure at the helm of our state federation, which included some of our toughest challenges.”
Peters’ family has yet to announce plans for a commemoration, Hochadel said.
After a stint as vice president, Peters served as AFT Connecticut president from 2011 to 2015. The nearly 100 locals that make up the federation represent teachers and school support staff, nurses and health care professionals, higher education faculty and state and municipal government employees.
Peters, a Democrat, was first elected to the Senate in 1992, the first woman elected in the 20th District. She won re-election by comfortable margins in 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2002. She later moved to Old Lyme.
During her tenure, the 20th District comprised East Lyme, Ledyard, New London, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook and Waterford.
In her third term, Peters was named deputy majority leader of the Senate and co-chairwoman of the Energy and Technology Committee.
Before running for office, she worked as a nurse at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London, where she became the nurses’ union’s chief negotiator. She left in 1990 to become a community liaison with the Thames Labor Coalition, which represented nurses, health care technicians and teachers in Waterford.
State Sen. Martha Marx, D-New London, who was elected last year to represent the 20th District and serves as president of AFT Local 5119, the Visiting Nurse Association of Southeastern Connecticut, said she has fond memories of Peters.
“Our careers followed very similar paths,” Marx said. “She was a local union president before she became a senator. I remember being very impressed that a nurse ran for the Senate. At the time, I never thought that was in my future.”
Marx described Peters as a strong leader who genuinely cared about working people.
“She was very kind and very serious, a true mentor in every sense,” Marx said. “In the year I spent up in Hartford, I hope I made her proud.”
Beth Sabilia, a former Waterford selectwoman and New London city councilor, described Peters as “an incredible force.”
“People gravitated to her because she had such a vibrant personality,” Sabilia said. “I threw a fundraiser for her once, and people from all over the state came. ... People admired her and respected her. She fought for the little people because she truly thought every person was worth fighting for. She believed in people.”
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