Madeline Sullivan Passes On

2007 MAY - Shortly before going to press, we received word that Association Secretary Madeline Sullivan had passed away after a lengthy illness.

Sullivan was a true pioneer of group insurance here in Massachusetts. In 1956, she was one of the first people hired by State Group Insurance Commission Director Bill Burke. Burke himself had just been appointed by Governor Christian Herter to head the new agency created in October 1955.

Prior to becoming a key department head at the GIC, Sullivan had been an assistant to the director of the Korean Bonus Commission.

In 1970, when Chapter 326 was enacted allowing cities and towns to insure their retired teachers with the GIC, Burke tabbed Sullivan to head the project, which resulted in 75 school districts joining the GIC. For the first time, teachers were able to have a payroll withholding of health insurance premiums from their pension checks.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, Sullivan held various offices from secretary to vice president of the Mass. State Employees Association (NAGE). In 1970 she received the “Woman of the Year Award for Public Employees,” from the Citizens for the Advancement of Public Service Association.

After taking an early retirement in 1973, Sullivan came to work for our Association as an insurance consultant. A year later, she was elected secretary, a position she held until her death.

“Madeline Sullivan was involved in all the insurance legislation that was passed during her tenure, especially the bills that were passed that gave retirees and survivors the same premium payments as employees. Earlier, retirees and survivors were limited to a 50 percent contribution by the state,” said Association President Ralph White.“If a retiree, state or local government, had an insurance claim problem it was always: ‘Call Madeline’. She became legendary for her ability to wade through red tape and resolve the problem.”

In 1974, when we were successful in getting a retiree seat on the Commission (Chapter 834), Sullivan became Commissioner Sullivan, appointed by Governor Frank Sargent. She became one of the strongest fighters on the Commission on behalf of both employees and retirees.

But in 1993, after consistently voting against cuts in the Commonwealth’s insurance plan, Sullivan, Jack Kasten, an investment banker, and John Mullen of NAGE were purged at the end of their terms by Governor William Weld and replaced by more “compliant commissioners.”

In recent years, suffering from Alzheimers, Sullivan turned her duties over to Cheryl Stillman, who had also worked at the Group Insurance Commission prior to taking an early retirement.

“I had big shoes to fill, but I was thankful that Madeline had spent a lot of time with me and shared her knowledge,” said Stillman. “I’ve tried to live up to her reputation.”

“Like Madeline, Cheryl is a tiger in her own right,” says Ralph White. “She’s tenacious when she feels a member is being shortchanged or denied an insurance claim. We’ve been fortunate to have the continuity of these two women over the past 34 years.”

Madeline Sullivan and her late husband Paul were longtime Holbrook residents prior to moving to South Dennis and later, Carver. In recent years, she had been living with her daughter Barbara in Bridgewater. She has two other daughers, Patricia and Carol, and several grandchildren and great grandchildren.