Rose Perica Mofford’s life is filled with many Arizona firsts. She was the first female student body president at Globe High School, the first woman appointed and later elected Secretary of State and the first female to become governor of Arizona. She obtained political positions that no previous Arizona women had reached and by doing so opened the door for women who followed.
Rose was born in 1922 in Globe, Arizona to parents John and Francis Perica, immigrants from Austria-Hungary. Her father was a miner. Her family and other community members were hit hard during the great Depression when the Old Dominion Mine, the major employer, shut down in 1931. The precarious ups and downs of mining life instilled in Rose a fierce determination, a strong work ethic, a familiarity with working class politics, loyalty and empathy for the concerns of hard working Arizonans. She attributed much of her success in life to her roots—her family and her experiences growing up in a rural mining community.
Rose loved sports, especially baseball and basketball. In 1939, between her junior and senior year at Globe High School, organizers of an all-girls amateur softball team called the Cantaloupe Queens asked her to join the team to compete in exhibition games. That summer she crossed 33 states and played in 20 games including three games at the famous Madison Square Garden in New York City, each of which had an audience of more than 18,000 spectators. That experience helped her understand the tremendous personal rewards for individual athletes and the economic development possibilities that sports opened up communities.
Shortly after she graduated from high school, Rose moved to Phoenix and embarked on what would become a 50 year career in state government. She
worked in the Arizona Treasurer’s Office and the Tax Commission. She served as business manager of Arizona Highways magazine before becoming assistant secretary of state in 1953, a position she held for 22 years. When she left the Tax Commission she saw firsthand the effects of gender discrimination when she found out they had given her job to a man at twice the salary and provided him five additional staff. For the rest of her career Rose supported women through official appointments, by mentoring and by committee work for organizations dedicated to advancing and honoring women.
In 1975 she became assistant director in the Department of Revenue, and then was appointed to succeed Wesley Bolin as Secretary of State in 1977. She won election to her first full term in 1978 and was re-elected in 1982 and 1986. As in earlier positions she held, Rose developed positive relationships with her peers. Her wit, her ability to laugh at herself, her genuine empathy for others, her understanding of intricacies of the political process and her ability to get things done meant that she was able to accomplish much during those years. While Secretary of State she introduced new computer technology, including a system that connected her office with the Federal Election Commission data. She worked with the county recorders and professionalized the election process throughout the state.
In 1988 Arizona’s Senate voted to impeach Governor Evan Mecham and Rose was sworn in as our 18th governor to complete his term. This was a time of political turmoil in our state. Although the office of governor was not something she would have voluntarily chosen, Rose stepped up to the plate and played her heart out. In her first State of the State address she commented that as Governor she would be expected to have “the courage of a pioneer woman, the compassion of Gandhi, the wisdom of Solomon, and the energy of Magic Johnson.”
As governor, she established the Governor’s Youth Commission Against Drugs, created the Governor’s Office of Drug and Substance Abuse and oversaw the creation of Arizona’s first statewide Drug Prevention Resource Center. She was a key figure in re-establishing a paid state holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. She strengthened economic development efforts through the establishment of a Commerce and Economic Development Commission.
When it looked like several of the eight baseball teams in the Cactus League might leave Arizona for Florida, Rose worked with the Cactus League owners, appointed a special commission to help the league survive and signed off on new sources of baseball funding. It took a great deal of work, but Arizona kept its teams and today there are fifteen teams that generate millions in tourism dollars. She continues to advocate for sports programs.
Rose was a founder of the Arizona Softball Foundation and a charter member of its Board of Governors. She was inducted into the Arizona Softball Hall of Fame twice and into the Cactus League Hall of Fame. She has served on many boards, foundations and committees such as the Mercy Care Foundation, the Crime Prevention League, and the Lion’s Sight and Hearing Foundation. Always concerned about children’s issues, she received many awards for her efforts over the years including Distinguished Public Servant and Dedicated Humanitarian Award from St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.
Rose Mofford not only shows us what “old Arizona” was like, but reminds us of what “today’s” Arizona should be like. Her standards of fairness and decency—her concern for everyone regardless of station or status—her love of the state and her years of public service are an inspiration to everyone.