Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Thursday named former state Sen. Edith Prague of Columbia as the commissioner of the new State Department on Aging, a rebuke to those who insist there are no second acts in American life — never mind a third and a fourth. Prague is 87.
Prague returns to state government after stints as a state representative and state senator, divided by a tumultuous and ultimately unhappy tenure as the commissioner of aging under Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr.
Weicker eventually eliminated the department, folding its functions into the Department of Social Services, earning him the everlasting enmity of Prague, who still grimaces at the mention of Weicker’s name.
“We did not agree, and we fought bitterly,” Prague said.
Malloy said the rationale for a stand-alone department was simple: Connecticut is aging. By 2030, more than 21 percent of the state’s population is expected to be of retirement age.
“I believe Edith has the experience and expertise necessary to make an immediate impact and lead policy initiatives,” Malloy said. “I have always admired Edith’s tenacity and leadership.”
She will be paid $120,000.
Prague, who did not seek re-election last fall for health reasons, said she called Malloy and sought the job, insisting that her health was better than when she departed the state Senate for the last time.
“That was then, this is now,” she said. “I am healthier. I am drinking Boost every day, so I’ll stay healthy.”
Prague, was the oldest member of the General Assembly at her departure, leaving after a busy year in which she played a visible role in the abolition of the death penalty for future crimes and taking the lead on a bill that gives collective bargaining rights to certain home-care workers and daycare providers.
“I emotionally left here that night,” Prague told The Mirror last year, referring to the collective bargaining bill. “All those workers were celebrating, cheering in the halls. It doesn’t get better than that.”
As the co-chairwoman of the Labor and Public Employees Committee, she led the six-hour debate. She stood exhausted that night, waiting for her ride by the main door to the Capitol, saying it was one of her proudest moments in the General Assembly.
Prague had a minor stroke on Christmas Day in 2011, but she bounced back. Her major concession was that she stopped driving to the Capitol from her home in eastern Connecticut, and she has missed some late night votes.
But her doctor bluntly warned her that the stress of working at the Capitol could be dangerous.
“My doctor looked me square in the face and said, ‘The second time, you might not be so lucky,’ ” Prague said last year. “I don’t want to go to my grandson’s college graduation in a wheelchair.”
So, what’s changed?
Malloy interjected that his commissioners generally do not meet at 2:30 a.m., when the Senate routinely finishes its business late in the session.
Prague said running for re-election would have been stressful in a new district after redistricting.
She said she was up to the new job.
After the press conference, Prague smiled and offered another reason for her return: “I couldn’t stay home.”