'Visionary leader': Former MN Rep. Sandra Peterson dies at age 79

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Former Minnesota Rep. Sandra Peterson died Saturday after battling ovarian cancer. She was 79.

Peterson, a Democrat, helped in the tumultuous merger of the state's two teacher's unions, and then served as the vice president of Education Minnesota until she was elected to the Minnesota House, serving District 45A and 45B from 2005-2013, Education Minnesota said in a news release.

“Sandra was the kind of leader we all hope to be – kind, approachable, smart and firm when necessary,” Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, said in a statement. “She was a courageous, visionary leader. She will be missed by those who knew her and remembered for her accomplishments as an educator and a union leader.”

Her family said Peterson died Saturday after a four-year battle with ovarian cancer. In a statement, they said:

“She was dearly loved by so many, especially those who knew her best – her family and close friends. Our memories of her warmth and her smile will be cherished forever. Her life and work demonstrated how much she loved Minnesota – in particular, Minnesota’s children and families. She was dedicated to improving the lives of children in everything she did – from her work as a teacher, as an early childhood education advocate, as a union leader and in her final days as a board member of the Minnesota Children’s Museum. She made a profound difference on behalf of children and families across the state.”

Peterson grew up on a farm in Benson, Minnesota, before graduation from Macalester College. She went on to teach kindergarten and special education in Robbinsdale schools for 17 years, the Star Tribune says. She was then elected to the Minnesota Federation of Teachers, which she led for more than a decade before helping merge the union with rival Minnesota Education Association to form Education Minnesota, the paper notes.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Politicians and leaders across the state expressed their condolences for the former legislator.

"Rep. Sandra Peterson was a dedicated educator and legislator. She cared deeply about better educational opportunity for all children," Gov. Mark Dayton said in a statement Saturday.

"As a teacher, education leader, and legislator, Sandra Peterson dedicated her career to improving the lives of children. Her efforts, over decades in public life, will have a lasting, positive impact on our state for many years to come. We mourn her loss today, and celebrate her many accomplishments on behalf of Minnesota children, families, and teacher," Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said in a statement.

Others shared their sympathy on Twitter:

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