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Former House 4B candidate Meg Bye dies after cancer fight

PEQUOT LAKES - Former legislative candidate Meg Bye, who also served as a Duluth city councilor and human rights advocate, died Wednesday after a battle with cancer. She was 69.

Bye, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007, was receiving hospice care at her home in Pequot Lakes.

Twice she ran as a DFL-endorsed candidate for the Minnesota House, losing bids in 2008 and 2010 to Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, for the House 4B seat.

Those endorsements came following an extensive record of public service in Duluth, where Bye served 12 years on the Duluth City Council; when she was first elected, in 1973, she was just the third woman to serve on the council.

In a Duluth News Tribune story earlier this month, Minnesota Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon called Bye a mentor who gave her the confidence to enter politics, and she said her friend will leave a lasting legacy.

"I think of Meg as one of those pioneer women who forged the way for other women to consider that they, too, could be leaders in the community," Prettner Solon said.

Bye was born in Oceanside, Calif., on Feb. 6, 1943, and graduated from Babbitt High School before attending the College of St. Scholastica, where she earned a bachelor's degree in math. She became a Benedictine nun and taught at St. Scholastica beginning in 1961. However, she chose another path in 1966, leaving the sisterhood.

"I wanted to try to use that forum for providing some service to humanity, some service to God. I just realized that the way I seem to feel most comfortable providing that type of service didn't fit in the religious community that well," she told the News Tribune in 1985. "I felt a need to be involved in a larger community, in the world at large as opposed to the more confined community one is involved in in a type of religious order."

Bye left St. Scholastica and worked with the Community Action Program in Duluth. She married local attorney and DFL Party activist Don Bye in 1969. They had a daughter, Raa Lyn, who died in childhood, and later a son, Dan.

In 1972, Bye ran for Duluth City Council, raising more than a local few eyebrows.

"Those were very different times," she told the News Tribune earlier this month. "Until I ran and won an at-large race, there was a sense that a woman couldn't do that, because it was too big a job.

Bye was elected to the Duluth City Council in 1973 and named council president in 1977, when she became the first woman picked to serve as League of Minnesota Cities president.

"She was a tremendous influence for me," Duluth City Councilor Sharla Gardner said. "Meg was one of the women in the DFL who I've always looked up to."

During her City Council tenure, Bye championed a city human rights ordinance that sought to prohibit discrimination based on factors including race, religion, age, gender, disability, family status and - most controversially at that time - sexual orientation.

She pushed for the ordinance unsuccessfully in 1976, 1980 and again in 1984. That last time, the council approved the ordinance but also put the issue to voters by referendum - where it was soundly defeated. The human rights ordinance became an issue in the next year's campaign, too, when Bye lost her bid for a fourth term to two candidates who opposed the rule.

In 2001, the city passed a human rights ordinance - and Bye was named Duluth's first human rights officer.

Bye stepped down in 2007 and entered the race for mayor, only to be defeated by Don Ness.

Following the election, she and her husband moved to Pequot Lakes, where she ran for the Minnesota House despite a cancer diagnosis.

A service will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Pequot Lakes. Visitation will be Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. until the time of the service at the church.