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Sherry Huber, trailblazing politician who defended abortion rights and Maine's forests, dies at 84

Sherry Huber at a Maine Audubon event in 2017.
Ariana van den Akker
Maine Audubon
Sherry Huber at a Maine Audubon event in 2017.

Sherry Huber, a longtime champion of reproductive rights and the environment who was one of the first women to run for governor of Maine, died earlier this month at the age of 84.

Huber, a moderate Republican from Falmouth, focused on environmental issues during her time as a state representative from 1976 to 1982, according to her obituary. She then made two unsuccessful bids for governor, first as a Republican in 1982, then as an independent four years later.

“Given the numbers of women in Maine state government and in Congress, it seems funny to me that a woman hasn’t run before,” Huber told the Lewiston Sun Journalduring her first campaign in 1982, in which she didn’t make it past the primaries.

Although the glass ceiling wouldn’t break at the Blaine House for another 36 years, Huber distinguished herself in other ways.

In 1989, she was appointed to run the Maine Waste Management Agency. Throughout her life, she was also an active member of some of the state’s biggest conservation groups, including Maine Audubon, the Nature Conservancy and the Forest Society of Maine.

She helped launch the Keeping Maine's Forests conservation initiative, and led MaineTREE — the Maine Timber Research and Environmental Education Foundation — for over 25 years, arranging many tours and educational opportunities in the state’s working forests.

“It struck me that she was in some ways practical in dealing with Maine's forests. She advocated conservation of the forests, but at the same time allowed that they could remain working forests,” says Maine Audubon Executive Director Andy Beahm.

Kate Dempsey, state director of the Nature Conservancy in Maine, echoed those sentiments. On a more personal level, she noted that Huber provided a model for how women could become politically active in Maine.

“She was both this brilliant politician and deeply followed through and wanted to make sure that people well beyond her would carry it forward,” Dempsey said.

In addition to her conservation work, Huber was a strong advocate for women’s rights. In 1971, she and her husband, David Huber, helped found and oversee the group now called Maine Family Planning, which provides abortions and other reproductive health services around the state.

She remained a firm defender of those rights, speaking out in 2018 against a Trump administration proposal to limit what federally-funded clinics could tell teenagers about contraception.

"Maine once had one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country. We now have the sixth lowest in the nation,” she said at the time.

The importance of Huber’s legacy wasn’t lost on the first woman who was finally elected to Maine's top office in 2018.

In a statement, Gov. Janet Mills said she was “deeply saddened” by Huber’s death, calling her “a friend, a trailblazer, a public servant, and a fierce and effective advocate for reproductive health care and for the protection of our cherished lands and waters.”

“I will miss her,” Mills added. “But I am grateful for her decades worth of important work — a legacy that will live on for generations to come.”