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From single mother to ‘Fab Five,’ Prescott’s Carol Springer leaves behind singular legacy

Longtime local politician Carol Springer, who died Aug. 9, 2018, at age 81, was among the “Fab Five” — a group of Arizona state office holders who got national attention in 1999, for being exclusively female. Here, Springer, left, is sworn in as Arizona State Treasurer by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, far right, as Springer’s daughters Leslie and Carol Lynn look on. (Springer family/Courtesy)

Longtime local politician Carol Springer, who died Aug. 9, 2018, at age 81, was among the “Fab Five” — a group of Arizona state office holders who got national attention in 1999, for being exclusively female. Here, Springer, left, is sworn in as Arizona State Treasurer by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, far right, as Springer’s daughters Leslie and Carol Lynn look on. (Springer family/Courtesy)

If there was new ground to be broken in Prescott over the past half-century or so, Carol Springer was the woman to do it.

From her home life, where she raised five children virtually on her own, to the business world, where she launched a successful local real-estate company, to the political realm, where she served in a myriad of state and local roles, Springer forged an extraordinary path throughout the 1970s, '80s, '90s, and early 2000s.

Springer, who called Prescott her home for 45 years, died Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, in her home, surrounded by family. She was 81.

Her children remember their mother as being hardworking and strict, but also fun and adventurous.

They say she regularly worked 16-hour days at her business, Springer Realty, and expected her older children to have dinner on the table at 6 every night.

At the same time, Springer took the children on family trips to the beach in Oregon, where she loved to ride motorcycles. “She had an adventurous side,” her oldest son Kent says, remembering that his mother was a professional bowler, a pilot, a golfer, and a world traveler to far-flung locales from Africa to Alaska.

She also excelled at card games, such as Texas Hold ‘em” and Let It Ride. “She enjoyed the entertainment that Las Vegas had to offer,” Kent remembers with a laugh. “She was a hell of a bluffer. She could keep a straight face like nobody’s business.”

EARLY YEARS

Springer was born in 1936 in the small community of Nathrop, Colorado, to what Kent terms “humble beginnings.”

The family soon moved to Oregon, and Springer grew up in Gresham, Oregon, where she excelled at roller skating, and was named a teenage queen of the roller rink.

She married and moved to Arizona in 1969, and worked in real estate in Scottsdale for time, before moving to Prescott in the early 1970s.

Springer divorced in 1973, and her children say she would go on to raise them “pretty much on her own.”

Arizona State Sen. Karen Fann, who remembers Springer first as her mother’s good friend and later as a political mentor, says those days as a single mother likely helped to pave the way for Springer’s later political success.

“In her generation, that was a lot to be a single mother, raising five kids,” Fann said. “She had to be tough.”

Indeed, toughness was among Springer’s attributes as a politician. Often operating in a largely male world, she never allowed her gender to get in her way, Kent says. “She didn’t scare,” he said. “If there was ever a person who could not be intimidated, it was her.”

Still, Fann said Springer always tempered her toughness with kindness. “She didn’t back down, but she was not a bully; she was one who wanted to listen to you and hear what you had to say. She was the most down-to-earth person you would ever meet.”

Springer’s children remember their mother as expecting a lot from them. But she also drove herself. Her daughter Leslie Springer says her mother was a “home flipper” before the practice even had a name.

“She would buy a house, fix it up, and get a little bit bigger house,” Leslie said. Eventually, Springer settled in a home that she had built in the Thumb Butte area.

POLITICAL WORLD

Springer entered state politics in 1991, when her children say she got angry about a previous decision. They don’t remember exactly what the issue was, but it likely had something to do with their mother’s lifelong mantra: “Don’t spend money you don’t have.”

Springer, a Republican, was elected to the Arizona State Senate in 1991, and she would go on to serve until 1998. During that time, she immersed herself in water issues, and Fann said she became an expert on the 1980 Groundwater Act.

Her children list other major accomplishments as well, including: Creation of Arizona charter schools to provide parents with school choice; creation of the “stalker law”; and being consistently recognized as a “friend of the taxpayer” by the Arizona Federation of Taxpayers.

Springer’s mentor throughout those years was her longtime companion, former U.S. Congressman and Prescott Mayor Sam Steiger, who died in 2012. Her children say Steiger served as Springer’s political adviser and also as someone they could count on during their growing up years.

FAB FIVE

After leaving the State Senate, Springer was elected Arizona State Treasurer – a position that brought national attention to her and her colleagues in the upper echelon of state government.

Kent remembers that the five top officeholders — Gov. Jane Hull, Secretary of State Betsey Bayless, Attorney General Janet Napolitano, Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan, and Springer as State Treasurer — were a bit surprised by the title “Fab Five,” and the media attention that ensued from having all females in Arizona’s top offices.

The five went on to appear on the ‘Today’ show, in People magazine, and Time magazine.

Near the end of her term as treasurer in 2002, Springer attempted to move up once again — this time to the governor’s seat. “She knew she wouldn’t win,” said Kent. “But she was able to get some concessions (from her opponents for the Republican nomination).”

Springer’s final political act came at the county level — as Yavapai County Supervisor from 2005 to 2012.

Along with Kent and Leslie, Springer’s other children include; John “Bert,” Kurt, and Carol Lynn.

Springer’s graveside services are private, but a celebration of her life will take place from 3 to 7 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 22, at the Windsock Cocktail Lounge, 1385 Iron Springs Road, Prescott. The public is welcome.

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks. Reach her at 928-445-3333, ext. 2034, or cbarks@prescottaz.com.

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