New Hampshire’s First Woman Governor (Acting), Politician, Civic Leader, and Campaign Advisor: Vesta Maurine (Coward) Roy (1925-2002)

Photograph of Vesta Coward from her high school yearbook.

Photograph of a young Vesta Coward (later Vesta Roy) from her high school yearbook.

She was born Vesta Maurine Coward on 26 March 1925 in Detroit, Michigan, the only daughter of  Percy A. & Mildred J. (Paterson) Coward.  She had three siblings, Thomas, Richard, and James. In 1940 her father was an inspector in an automobile factory (per U.S. census).  She attended school in Dearborn, Michigan, including graduating from Fordson High School where she was a member of both the student council and the girl’s field hockey team.

Vesta attended Wayne State University (Biographies differ, one stating she graduated, and a second stating she left college prior to completion to serve in the military during WWII, the latter probably being accurate).  When the United States military deemed her too young, she became a radio operator with the Royal Canadian Air Force (from 1943 to 1945).

Vesta M. Roy, official photograph.

Vesta M. Roy, official photograph.

Vesta M. Coward married 19 November 1945 to Albert L. Roy, son of Leo A. & Marie Laudia (Geoffroy) Roy. Albert’s father Leo was a Lowell City Councilor and from 1946-1947 Mayor.  In the early to mid 1950s Albert and Vesta Roy lived in Lowell, Massachusetts. Vesta worked while Leo attended optometry school.  The Lowell Sun newspaper (1983) stated that “she was a special insurance agent, a job which helped finance her husband’s college education.”

By 1958 Alfred Roy had graduated and was working as an optometrist.  They moved to Salem, New Hampshire about 1963. In 1976 she was president of the Optometrists Association Auxiliary.

While living Lowell, Vesta was greatly involved in local charitable organizations. She was chosen to be the grand regent of the local chapter of the Catholic Daughters of America and was also president of the Seton Guild.  She waited until her children were grown before becoming active in politics.

From 1977 Salem Report showing board of selectmen, including Vesta Roy.

From 1977 Salem Report showing board of selectmen, including Vesta Roy.

Vesta M. Roy was Salem New Hampshire’s supervisor of checklists, and served on the town’s Board of Selectmen (apparently only in 1977 as that is the only year she is shown pictured in the town report). Note: Vesta M. Roy was not the first woman selectman of Salem. Bessie M. Morrison (Mrs. Henry) became Salem NH’s first woman selectman in 1969.

After serving as the first woman Rockingham County Commissioner, she became a state representative for Salem. In 1976 she was a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor’s councilor, District 3 (she lost that one-time Executive Council  attempt to Dudley Dudley). She served as a state senator for four terms (1979-1986) and in 1982 was the first woman president of the Senate.

An article in the 2 December 1982 Springfield Union newspaper noted another first–that “over the past two days, New Hampshire has had three governors. Former Senate President Robert Monier, R-Goffstown was acting governor until midnight Tuesday when his term expired. Secretary of State William Gardner then became acting governor and presided over a meeting of the five-member Executive Council. His term lasted about 15 hours until [Vesta] Roy was elected Senate president [on December 1, 1982]. At age 57, she became the first (acting) woman governor of New Hampshire.” The article notes that John Sununu “who was standing outside in the hall…lobbied heavily [for her selection as Senate President].”

Sketch of Vesta M. Roy from 1976 political advertisement

Sketch of Vesta M. Roy from 1976 political advertisement

Her political philosophy was quoted in one of her political advertisements: “fiscally conservative, but a moderate when we consider social service issues.” (i.e. she supported programs developed in communities with private support instead of relying  on state and federal funding).

She had many other non-elected political jobs. In 1976 Vesta was also a delegate to the National Republican convention.  In 1977 Vesta was co-chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Committee, and also she was chairman of the NH State Dinner to highlight the National Republican Governors Conference at Mt. Washington. She also served as a campaign advisor to Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush during their presidential campaigns.

-New Hampshire Woman Firsts-
. First Woman Rockingham County Commissioner
. First NH Woman Senate President (1982-1986)
. First NH Woman Governor (acting), never sworn in. [1]

[1]For a period of weeks, Roy served as the first woman acting governor after the illness, then death of Democratic Gov. Hugh Gallen, who had lost his re-election bid to John Sununu.  “Acting governor” is a constitutional position created for the case when a governor dies in office or resigns. In New Hampshire the President of the Senate is the designee. Traditionally acting governors largely refrain from exercising most gubernatorial powers other than for routine items or those required because of some emergency. As acting governor, Vesta Roy proclaimed “a state of mourning” for Gallen, that continued until January 5, 1983–the date he would have stepped down as Governor.

=====PARTIAL GENEALOGY OF VESTA M. (COWARD) ROY=====

Robert Coward, born about 1811 England; he married Oct-Nov-Dec 1846 in Pocklington, Yorkshire East Triding, England to Mary Fountain, daughter of Richard & Hannah (Wright) Fountain. She born about 1823-1824 in Bolton Percy, Yorkshire, England, and died 5 May 1897 in Huron, Ontario, Canada. Robert and Mary Coward  emigrated to Canada in 1871, settling in the province of Ontario, and raising a family in the town of Usborne.
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1871 Canadian Census > Ontario > Huron South > Usborne
Robert Coward 60
Mary Coward 48
William Coward 17 b abt 1854
Honour Coward 15 b abt 1856
Daniel Coward 12 b abt 1858
George Coward 10 b abt 1861
Thomas Coward 7 b abt 1864
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Children of Robert & Mary (Fountain) Coward:
1. William Coward, b c 1854 Canada
2. Honour/Honor Coward, b 11 Aug 1853 Canada, d. 8 July 1939 in Hope, Michigan ; m. Enos Hull. Buried Davison Cemetery, Davison Michigan. George Hull information on her death rec (prob son).
3. Daniel Coward, b. abt 1858 Canada
4. George Coward, b abt 1861 Canada
5. +Thomas Coward, b. May 1865 Ontario, Canada

Thomas Coward, son of Robert & Mary (Fountain) Coward, b. May 1865 Ontario Canada. He m. 26 July 1887 in Perth, Ontario, Canada to Anna Bell, daughter of Robert & Mary (Mitchell) Bell. [Her father was born in Scotland, and mother in New Brunswick, Canada]. She was b. abt 1867 in Canada. They lived in various places in Ontario, Canada.
——————————–
Name: Thomas Coward
Age: 21
Birth Year: abt 1866
Birth Place: Canada
Marriage Date: 26 Jul 1887
Marriage Place: Perth, Ontario, Canada
Father: Robert Coward
Mother: Mary Fountain
Spouse: Anna Bell
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1911 Canadian Census > Ontario > Huron South > Usborne
Thomas Coward 46 b May 1865 Ontario store —
Annie Coward 41 wife b Oct 1878 Ontario
Vera Coward 18 dau b ?Feb 1893 Ontario
Earl Coward 15 son b April 1896 Ontario
Eric Coward 12 b August 1899 Ontario
Percy Coward 8 b March 1903 Ontario
Elizabeth Hee?/Slee 76 (?step)mother b April 1835 ?Quebec
———————————
Children of Thomas & Annie (Bell) Coward:
1. Vera Mary Elizabeth Coward, b. 4 Sep 1892, Usborne Twp, Huron, Ontario, Canada; m. Thomas James “Clayton” Watson
2. Earl Coward, b ?Feb 1893 Ontario Canada
3. Eric Coward, b. April 1896 Ontario Canada
4. +Percy Alton Coward, b. 28 March 1903 Ontario Canada

Percy Alton Coward, son of Thomas & Annie (Bell) Coward b 28 March 1902/3 London, Canada. [birth rec 1903, other recs 1902], d. 12 March 1968 in Bellingham, Washington. Declared for citizenship on 30 Dec 1922. He married 30 Dec 1922 to Mildred Paterson. She was b. 7 June 1903 at Shakespeare, Canada, d. 19 January 1979. At that time stated he had 3 children. He and his wife immigrated to the US on 28 May 1923 from Windsor Canada to Detroit Michigan. His last foreign residence was Saskatoon, Canada. They are buried in Greenacres Memorial Park, in Ferndale, Washington.  [her burial] [his burial].  By 1956 they had moved to Washington state where Mildred was working as a bookkeeper for Dr. Bernard J. Gilshannon, and they lived at 2517 Lake Samish Road in Bellingham, Washington. At the same time Percy was a salesman for Sears, and son Richard was living in the same town.
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Her uncle was Samuel Bounell/Bonnell, of Saskatoon Canada.
——————————————–
1940 US Census > Michigan > Wayne > Dearborn City
Percy Coward Head M 37 Canada b abt 1903 G8 inspector, auto factory; previously lived Garden City, Wayne, Michigan
Mildred Coward Wife F 36 Canada b abt 1904 H1 book keeper, advertising
Alton Coward Son M 16 Michigan b abt 1923
Vesta Coward Daughter F 15 Michigan b 1925
Richard Coward Son M 12 Michigan b 1928
James Coward Son M 7 Michigan b 1933
———————————————–
Vesta Maurine Coward [SSDI Index, Excerpts only]
[Vesta M Roy]
[Vesta Roy]
Gender: Female
Race: White
Birth Date: 26 Mar 1925
Birth Place: Detroit Wayn, Michigan
[Detroit, Michigan]
Death Date: 9 Feb 2002
Father: Percy A Coward
Mother: Mildred J Paterson
Type of Claim: Original SSN.
————————————————–
Children of Percy A. & Mildred J. (Paterson) Coward:
1. Thomas Alton Coward, b 6 August 1923, Detroit Michigan
2. Vesta Maurine Coward, b. 26 March 1925 Detroit Michigan. She graduated from Fordson High School in Dearborn Michigan.
3. Richard Elmer Coward, b. 5 September 1927 Detroit, Michigan; m. Jeanne G. He was an engineer for General Pet, with a house at 416 Chuckanut Drive in Bellingham Washington.
4. James Coward, b. 11 Feb 1933 Garden City, Michigan, d. 29 Sep 2013 in Washington (state). He married Elizabeth –. Had children: Jana (Coward) Peterson, Jennifer (Coward) Robinson, Thomas Coward.

Vesta Maurine Coward, [this story is about her see above] daughter of Percy A. & Mildred J. (Paterson) Coward, was b. 26 March 1925 in Detroit, Michigan. She married 19 November 1945 to Alfred L. Roy, son of Leo A. & Maria Laudia (Geoffroy) Roy. They are buried in Saint Joseph Cemetery, Chelmford MA.
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The Lowell Sun, October 31, 1968, Thursday
Ex-Mayor Leo A. Roy succumbs. LOWELL.–Leo A. Roy, former mayor of Lowell, and active in political circles for decades, died last night at St. John’s hospital.
Mr. Roy who served in the city council for 16 years and was mayor from 1946 to 1948, was Superintendent of Maintenance for the North Common Village housing development when he died. He began his political career in 1936 when he was elected a councilor from Ward six and was re-elected under both the Plan B and Plan E types of government. Mr. Roy was also active in fraternal affairs of the city and was a member of the Lafayette Club, past president of the Pawtucketville Social Club, a member of the United Commercial Travelers, the Centralville Social Club, the Royal Order of Moose, the CCA Club, Passe Temps Club, CMAC club and the Lowell Lodge of Elks. He was a communicant of Ste. Jeanne d’Arc church and a member of his parish Holy Name Society. Surviving him, besides his wife, Mrs. Laudia (Geoffroy) Roy; are a son Dr. Albert L. Roy of Pelham, N.H., a brother Albert Roy of Lowell; three sisters, Miss Lillian Roy of Lowell, Mrs. Romeo (Eva) L’Heureux of Pawtucket RI, and Mrs. George (Annette) Blazon of Dorchester, and eight grandchildren, Gregory Roy, David Roy, James Roy, Miss Nancy Roy, Donald Roy, all of Pelham, N.H.; Miss Rhonda Roy, Robert Roy Jr., and Miss Wendy Roy, all of Chelmsford.
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Children of Alfred L. & Vesta M. (Coward) Roy:
1. Greg Roy who m. Marcia –.
2. David Roy who m. Susan –.
3. Donald Roy who m. Melanie –.
4. James Roy who m. Elizabeth –.
5. Nancy Roy who m. Michael Wood.

[end]

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