The Honorable Grace L. Drake, a longtime resident of Solon, was an accomplished photographer, a wife and mother, and a politician. An avid Republican, she was someone who embraced the warmth, wit and compassion that crossed party lines, her colleagues said.
The 11th woman to serve in the Ohio Senate was known as a people person, trusted adviser, mentor and friend.
Mrs. Drake was born May 25, 1926, in New London, Connecticut and died Dec. 30. She was 94. She had lived on Briardale Drive in the Briar Hill subdivision in Solon since 1962.
“The definition of ‘grace’ in the dictionary is poise, elegance, forgiveness and courteous good will,” said former Republican State Rep. Marlene Anielski of the Sixth District. “How perfect a definition of Sen. Drake,” the longtime friend said.
Ms. Anielski referred to Mrs. Drake as a second mother who did not hesitate to comment whether she wanted to hear it or not.
“To me, she was just a genuine person,” Ms. Anielski added.
From the moment she arrived on the campaign trail for the Ohio House of Representatives, it was apparent she was unique, William G. Batchelder, former speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, recalled.
“She was in fact ‘Amazing Grace,’” Mr. Batchelder continued. “She was an indefatigable state representative and then a senator.” She gave every issue her all, he noted.
“In my years in the political life of Ohio, I have met many remarkable people,” Mr. Batchelder said. “But I have known no one else who was so aptly nicknamed. Amazing Grace was a woman of great ability, great devotion to her constituents, great good humor and perhaps, above all, great heart.
“She has been a rich blessing to Ohio,” he said.
Mrs. Drake was an extraordinary individual who cared deeply about other people, said state Rep. Robert R. Cupp, R-Lima, the current speaker of the House. As chairwoman of the Senate Health Committee, Mrs. Drake worked tirelessly and with great skill to improve healthcare for all Ohioans, Rep. Cupp noted.
In specific, Mrs. Drake worked long and hard on what she termed the “drive-thru delivery” bill, which helped lengthen the stay for women in the hospital following childbirth. The bill required a 48 hour stay and additional time for those mothers undergoing Cesarean section births. Ohio was the second state where that bill became law.
Work she did made life better for young and old residents throughout the state, her colleagues said.
“She was warm and caring, and a true friend,” Rep. Cupp added. “I mourn her passing.”
Mrs. Drake came to politics after working out of high school as a portrait photographer, making her home outside of Syracuse, New York and commuting to New York City for shoots at leading department stores. Soon after, she met her husband William Lee Drake, an engineer and account executive, and the couple came to live in Cleveland in the early 1950s.
A member of the Western Reserve Women’s Republican Club in Chagrin Falls, and later president of the South Chagrin Units as well as president of the Cuyahoga County Unit, Mrs. Drake would take a break from working in the photography studio during presidential and gubernatorial campaigns.
What eventually took her from supporting other candidates to becoming one herself had much to do with Republican state Sen. Ben Skall, a former University Heights City Council member and eventually her predecessor.
“We backed him,” Mrs. Drake recalled in a past interview, while at the same time she made calls for Ronald Reagan. But when a re-districting was done, Mr. Skall was pushed out of an area he was familiar with and eventually left. As a result, there was an opening, and Mrs. Drake was encouraged to run.
At the age of 55 and with no college degree, Mrs. Drake was sworn in at Solon High School to fill Mr. Skall’s position then went on to run successfully for the seat in November against opponent Frank Mahnic, a member of the Ohio House of Representatives.
Mrs. Drake went on to serve the 22nd District for four terms as a member of the Ohio Senate from 1984 to 2000. Her district encompassed the eastern/southern portion of Cuyahoga County and all of Medina and Wayne counties. She chaired committees on economic development and small business before heading the Health and Human Services and Aging Committee.
She faced term limits in 2000 and was succeeded by Ron Amstutz.
“She did wonderful things as a legislator,” longtime friend and former Cuyahoga County Republican Party communications director Doug Magill recalled. “But she never boasted about anything.
“You had to draw stories out of her,” Mr. Magill continued. “She had an unswerving desire to serve the public and was a passionate believer in Republican principals but never let her actions be guided by Republican politics.”
Friendly, warm and humble, she had some steel in her character, Mr. Magill said.
Mrs. Drake, after four years in the Senate, lost her husband, who was 10 years her senior. The couple had one daughter, Sandra Sparber, who survives her, and a grandson.
“She was a gracious, classy lady, diplomatic, and with just a loving personality,” Ms. Anielski added.
Her interests extended well beyond her legislative accomplishments, Mr. Batchelder continued.
“Something perhaps less known about Grace but very close to her heart was the Cleveland Dyslexia Center,” he said. Mrs. Drake served on the board as did he and both were devoted to goals and proud of the great success of the center, he said.
“Countless dyslexic children owe their educational success to the world of the Dyslexia Center,” Mr. Batchelder noted.
A member of St. Joan of Arc Church in Chagrin Falls, Mrs. Drake was also a member of the Solon 100 Club and held an honorary doctorate from CSU in public administration.
Services for Mrs. Drake are being planned at a later date.