Maureen DiMarco, whose three-decade-long career in education policy ranged from service on a local school board to becoming California’s first Cabinet-level education secretary, died Saturday in Sacramento. She was 66 and succumbed, her family said, after a recent illness.
As then-Gov. Pete Wilson’s top education adviser in the 1990s, DiMarco was deeply involved in fierce Capitol battles over such issues as implementing Proposition 98, the 1988-vintage school finance law, academic testing and class size reduction.
With Wilson’s support, DiMarco ran for state superintendent of public instruction in 1994 but was defeated by Delaine Eastin, who was supported by the California Teachers Association, which had jousted with Wilson and DiMarco on a variety of issues.
DiMarco was born Maureen Marilyn Gallagher in Rochester, N.Y., but as a teenager moved to California with her family and attended the University of Southern California, where she met her husband, Richard DiMarco.
When their daughters, Marianne and Noelle, started school in Orange County, DiMarco became involved in local school issues and was elected to the Garden Grove Unified School Board in 1981, serving for a decade and becoming president of the California School Boards Association in 1990.
That position, and a stint as a consultant to the state Department of Education in the 1980s, led to Wilson’s appointing her to his Cabinet in a move widely seen as seeking to shift control of education policy from the state superintendent of schools and the state school board.
As a Democrat in Republican Wilson’s administration, DiMarco also worked on the governor’s hopes of integrating education with social services as part of Wilson’s “preventive government” philosophy.
After six years with Wilson, DiMarco became a government relations executive with textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin, and later retired, only to return to the workplace as a consultant to McGraw-Hill Education.
In addition to her husband and daughters, DiMarco is survived by five grandchildren.
Funeral services will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at All Saints Episcopal Church, 2076 Sutterville Road, Sacramento, preceded by a visitation at Harry A. Nauman & Son funeral home, 4041 Freeport Blvd., on Friday from 4 to 8 p.m.
Private interment will follow, and the family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations should be made to educational organizations.
Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195.