She helped set stage for Bill Clinton

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Edna O’Neill Mattson draws a line between her job and politics. She doesn’t mix the two, even to the point of not wearing her Democratic super delegate pin or talking about the candidates when at work.

But that was a little difficult to do, especially when she was asked to join Bill Clinton before the former president stepped onto a platform in the Great Hall of the Knight Campus of CCRI Thursday afternoon. Mattson accepted, although she didn’t break out her delegate pin or, for that matter, wear a Hillary button or carry a Hillary sign.

Mattson, who celebrated her 80th birthday in January, is no stranger to politics or rubbing shoulders with those in high places. In fact, she made a splash at the national Democratic convention decades ago when she showed Clinton and Al Gore how to dance the Macarena. The dance was the latest fad, and as Mattson remembers, the music filled the convention hall, yet the candidates were stiff-legged, obviously trying to look like they fit in, but standing out like wooden soldiers. She showed them the moves.

“We got everyone doing it,” she recalled with a smile. “That was eons ago.”

Mattson is no stranger to CCRI, either. She is the facilities coordinator and was among the first to be contacted when Hillary’s team picked the college as the venue for her husband’s appearance. She was on campus at 6:45 a.m. to make sure everything would come together. She said the campaign team rented the college, set up platforms, and worked out the flow of spectators and the back stage area – the student offices – where Clinton, Gov. Gina Raimondo, college President Meghan Hughes, and other dignitaries would gather before facing the cameras and a crowd estimated at more than 1,500. Mattson needed to coordinate the college security and maintenance staff with the campaign team and Secret Service.

Why not use the field house, which would have offered more space and been easier to control?

“That was being used,” Mattson responded. That’s the way she is. The college comes first. Classes did not stop for Clinton’s visit and while people rallied on the floor of the Great Hall and looked down from rooms and ramps above, there was a steady stream of students going between classes, some even eating lunch as they went.

“They decided on the Great Hall,” Mattson said of the Clinton campaign.

And it worked, although it didn’t seem at first glance that the line stretching to the parking lot would all fit in.

“You know, they even found a seat for me,” said Mattson. She was seated just off the stage with a select group of VIPs.

It’s no wonder that the Democrats take note of Mattson. She was introduced to politics at the age of 10 when she stuffed envelopes for the campaign of John Kennedy.

She made her first mark on the state scene when she was named the only woman to the North Kingstown Democratic Committee in 1973. “There were 38 men and me,” she said. She went on to become a charter member of the state Democratic City and Town Chairman Association.

So, what did she say when she was face-to-face with President Clinton Thursday?

“You may remember,” she said recalling the conversation, “I was a delegate for you [when Bill Clinton first ran for president] and for Hillary [when she ran eight years ago].”

Mattson strayed from her self-imposed principle not to mix politics and her state job, but then she had been on the job since early that morning and hadn’t taken a lunch break. It surely was permissible.

What does she think of Hillary?

“We’d be getting two for two,” she said of a Hillary win. “The wisdom of Bill Clinton and his successes,” she said. In Hillary, she said, Americans would get an advocate for women and for education.

With all that she has seen in politics, the people she had met and the people she talks with to this day, Mattson thinks of the country and wonders.

“We need to start to look at what is happening in this country,” she said.

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