Throughout her life, Margaret Taylor Hance followed the lesson she learned as a child: if a person had a roof over his head and three square meals a day, he owes service to the community. First as a volunteer and then in the political arena, Margaret gave tirelessly to Phoenix, becoming the city’s first woman mayor.
The youngest of three children, she was born on July 2, 1923, in Spirit Lake, Iowa, to Glen C. and Helen (Kenny) Taylor. When Margaret was three years old, the family moved to Mesa, Arizona, and in 1930 settled in Phoenix, where her father became a senior vice president of Valley National Bank. She enjoyed all school sports, particularly basketball and baseball. Margaret also played tennis and golf and participated in a rodeo drill team in Prescott. From 1942 to 1944, she attended the University of Arizona, and then enrolled in Scripps College in Claremont, California, from which she graduated in 1945.
During these college years, she met Richard M. Hance, an aviation cadet stationed at Luke Army Air Force Base in Arizona. They were married on August 11, 1945. The couple lived in Amarillo, Texas, where Richard was stationed, and then returned to Phoenix following his discharge. Richard went to work for the Valley National Insurance Company, eventually becoming its executive vice president.
The mother of three children, Margaret pursued many volunteer activities while they were growing up, by helping the PTA, Cub Scouts, Little League, and Trinity Episcopal Church. Later her community work expanded to include St. Luke’s Hospital Board of Visitors, the Junior League of Phoenix, the United Fund, the Fiesta Bowl Committee, the Harrington Arthritis Center, and the Arizona Kidney Foundation.
Besides volunteering, Margaret did documentaries of public affairs for KINK television station and wrote and produced the Holiday World Travel radio show. In 1970, Margaret’s husband died, forcing her to pick a new path for her future. She came to the conclusion that city government was a place she could make a contribution. She had already served five years as member and chair of the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. She realized that she could do more to aid the park system and make other improvements from a position on the city council. The Charter Government Committee had controlled city politics since 1949, when a large group of leading businessmen decided to back mayor and council candidates who would end years of corruption and open the city to growth. Margaret knew she needed the committee’s support if she was to have a chance of winning her first bid in the political arena. Sharing the committee’s ideals, Margaret was named to the charter’s 1971 slate and easily won.
Councilperson Hance continued to improve the city’s park system, and she addressed one of the public’s biggest concerns in the early 1970s: the encroachment of development on mountains in the Phoenix area. Margaret led those who urged the city to preserve these mountains by acquiring them and adding them to the city’s parks. Using a special bond election and federal revenue sharing, the city bought Camelback Mountain, Squaw Peak, and South and North Mountains to create the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Margaret gained the unofficial title “Mother of the Mountain Preserve,” due to her determination to complete the project. In 1973, she ran successfully for a second term on the charter slate and served as vice mayor.
The Charter Government Committee’s dominance of city politics was beginning to fade during this period of Margaret’s political career. In twenty short years, Phoenix had grown from a medium sized city to a large metropolis, and many felt that the charter committee was not changing with the times. Single mindedly focused on clean government, it chose to ignore the issues of ethnic and minority groups and the problem of inadequate freeways.
In 1975, Margaret decided to try for the position of mayor. Convinced that Phoenicians would not elect a woman for at least another ten years, the charter committee backed her opponent. Margaret’s decision to run as an independent candidate illustrated her sensitivity to the changes in Phoenix. Although her views on government had not changed, she realized that charter sponsorship was now more of a liability than an asset. With support from many, Margaret won the election along with five, out of seven, independent council candidates. The results marked the end of the rule of the Charter Government Committee.
As Margaret began her term as Phoenix’s first woman mayor in 1976, she led a city facing new problems. Margaret met greater opposition than she had as a Council member, but she proved more than equal to the task, winning four two year terms (1976-1983), a precedent. Mayor Hance kept her humor in the process of governing the city. Her sardonic wit was unquenchable. She answered questions directly and unapologetically presented her beliefs.
During the urban crisis of the middle and late 1970s, Margaret gave economic development top priority. She worked to attract new industries to the city and to revitalize downtown Phoenix. She initiated plans to expand the Civic Plaza, create Patriot’s Park, and construct the Herberger Theater and the Arizona Science and Technology Museum. Private developers constructed new housing downtown, and high-rise, buildings appeared along Central Avenue. Many of these projects reached maturity after she had left office.
Mayor Hance believed that improving transportation was an essential step toward economic prosperity. Despite its rapidly growing population, the city had not developed freeways or maintained a mass transit system, concentrating instead on arterial streets. During her tenure, Margaret got the route and funding approved for the Papago Freeway and Squaw Peak Parkway (now Piestewa Peak). Hundreds of miles of roads were paved and maintained, and Sky Harbor Airport opened a third terminal building.
A 1975 report listed Phoenix as the city with the highest rate of crime against property. Margaret made crime prevention another high priority, supporting Neighborhood Watch programs. She viewed the Central Arizona Project (CAP) as the best solution to the ever-present problem of water. To control floods, she called for new dikes at Sky Harbor Airport and new dams on the Salt and Verde rivers.
The Community recognized her service with a variety of awards. In 1978 she was named Woman of the Year by the Advertising Club. She also received the Don Bolles Memorial Award from the Arizona Kachina Club, the Centennial Award of the Salvation Army, and the University of Arizona’s Alumni Achievement Award. Perhaps her most amusing distinction was being named to Women Sports Magazine‘s Tomboy’s Who’s Who in 1977.
Margaret Hance gained national prominence during her tenure. She acted as a trustee at the U.S. Conference of Mayors and served on the board of directors of the National League of Cities. In 1982 she became president of the National Conference of Republican Mayors and Elected Officials. Other positions included conference delegate to the OCED and treasurer of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.
Margaret’s abilities had attracted the attention of President Ronald Reagan, who appointed her to the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations and the Presidential Federalism Advisory Committee. In 1983, she became co-chair of Reagan’s reelection campaign. After Reagan’s reelection, the Reagan administration offered Margaret the post of director of the General Services Administration. She rejected the offer, stating that the job was heavy on administration and light on dealing with people.
Returning to Phoenix the next month, Margaret anticipated time for relaxation. Soon, however, she was directing the Jon Kyle for Congress Committee, returning a favor for his help in one of her mayoral reelection campaigns. She also filled her time with public speaking, relishing graduation addresses in particular. She spoke at her alma mater, Scripps College; at Orme Ranch School in Dewey, Arizona; and at President Reagan’s alma mater, Eureka College, in Illinois, where she received an honorary doctoral degree.
Margaret maintained her link to national politics in 1987 by working for the Fund for America’s Future, the precursor of Vice President George Bush’s presidential campaign. The following year, Margaret chaired the Bush campaign in Arizona. Surprisingly, she held no official position within the state’s Republican Party. In 1988, a year of controversy over Arizona Governor Evan Mecham, Margaret served as head Arizona delegate to the Republican Convention and succeeded in keeping herself free of what she called the “current unpleasantness.”
Soon after Bush’s election as president, Margaret discovered that she had cancer. As her health weakened, she withdrew from her various activities but never lost her sense of humor. She died in Phoenix on April 29, 1990. Many people sang the praises of this wonderful lady. Arizona Governor Rose Mofford, former governors Jack Williams and Paul Fannin, and several former Phoenix mayors paid their respects at her funeral. President and Mrs. Bush, friends since the 1984 Reagan campaign, sent their personal condolences. On May 8, 1990, the Arizona State Senate passed a resolution enumerating her accomplishments. As a final tribute, in January 1991 the city of Phoenix named the new park on the six-block deck of the downtown tunnel of the Papago Freeway, Hance Park. It was a fitting memorial to a dedicated advocate of “urban beauty, parkland, inner city revitalization, and modern transportation.”