Gloria McLean

Gloria McLean

Gloria McLean died Sunday at the age of 92.  The name doesn't ring a bell? This would be another case, then, of someone outliving their well-deserved notoriety.

McLean broke glass ceilings in the state legislature when she became the first woman to serve as an administrative assistant to a state senator and, later, the first woman to serve as a state senate district coordinator.

McLean worked in those capacities for Kern County's longtime, somewhat legendary state senator, Walter Stiern, a central figure in the development of California's community college and state college systems.

"She got those jobs by being the best there was," Stiern said in a 1987 interview.

McLean's association with the legislature began in 1958 when she was hired as the secretary of a joint office shared by three newly elected Democratic state legislators from Bakersfield: Stiern, Assemblywoman Dorothy Donahoe, for whom the Donahoe Higher Education Act (also known as the California Master Plan for Higher Education) was named, and Assemblyman John C. Williamson, author of the Williamson Act, a law that has protected millions of acres of California farmland from development.

CSU Bakersfield's campus library is named for Stiern; Dorothy Donahoe Hall is to the library's immediate south.

McLean first worked for Donahoe in 1947 when, as a student at Kern County Union High School (now Bakersfield High), she sorted report cards and helped with other office tasks. Donahoe was then the high school registrar.

When Donahoe was elected to the assembly a decade later, she recommended McLean to her male colleagues as their shared secretary.

Donahoe died of pneumonia at age 49 in 1960 — Donahoe's mother, a Christian Scientist, had urged her to decline medical care — and McLean became exclusively Stiern's aide. She remained in his employ for the next 27 years, eventually becoming his chief of staff, her title until his retirement from the California Senate in 1986.

Former Bakersfield City Councilman Mark Salvaggio recalled the day back in the 1980s McLean taught him something about responsibility to voters.

"I had been asked by the California Teachers Association to see if Sen. Stiern would 'take a walk' on a particularly regressive piece of legislation in the Senate Education Committee," Salvaggio wrote.

"Our thought was if Stiern could not bring himself to vote 'no,' then perhaps he would not show up for the vote. This way the adverse bill might not have enough 'yes' votes and would not make it out of committee. This was a common practice in committee meetings among legislators.

"I reached Gloria McLean. I popped the question. She replied, 'Mark, Sen. Stiern does not do that. His job is to either vote 'yes' or 'no' in committee."

"I was embarrassed. I learned a big lesson that day. Sen. Walter Stiern did not play these political games; it was part of the 'trust,' as he later taught me, he had with the people back home. I will never forget the good government tutorial from Gloria McLean that day."

Stiern, a large-animal veterinarian by profession, is the Kern County legislator whose SB 75 authorized the creation of California State College Bakersfield, now CSUB. In 1988, Tomas Arciniega, then-president of CSUB, said of Stiern, "No single individual was more important to the creation and continued development of Cal State Bakersfield."

Stiern authored many pieces of major legislation affecting community colleges. His legislation set up a separate governing board for community colleges, provided a method to build new community colleges throughout the state, and, with Donahoe, set out the mission of all branches of higher education in California, the 1960 Master Plan.

McLean was there every step of the way.

McLean was born in Bakersfield to a Scottish-born oilman and his New Zealander wife. She attended Standard School, KCUHS and Bakersfield Junior College, which was then part of the high school campus.

After community college, she held down state government jobs until Donahoe, and eventually Stiern, hired her away. She retired at age 56 when Stiern retired — such was her loyalty.

"He was a man among men, an outstanding legislator," McLean's brother, William McLean, said of Stiern. "You just don't see them anymore. He was probably the best friend that California ever had in the state legislature."

After her retirement McLean worked for the publisher of an international directory of neurosurgeons.

McLean is survived by her brother Bill, 13 years her junior. No services will be held.

(1) comment

Michael Palmer

Walter Stiern was my grandfather. He passed when I was young and I did not know him well. I do remember Gloria. RIP. Thank you for the article.

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