Posted: Sept. 18, 2004


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

State Rep. George Robert "Bobby" Quillen, the smiling and sockless legislator who displayed grace and bravery as he coped with liver cancer, died early this morning at his home in Harrington.

Quillen, 75, who was not running for re-election because of his illness, had a cherubically cheerful air about him, always giving the same answer when anyone asked how he was, either in his healthy days or in his last ones.

"Never better," he would say, the words clipped and crisp.

Quillen was a Republican whose popularity kept him in Dover representing a Democratic-leaning district. He served two separate stints in the state House of Representatives from 1966 to 1972 and from 1982 to the present, spending two of his terms in leadership as the majority whip from 1992 to 1996.

His relentless optimism and his habit of shunning socks, no matter what the weather, were his trademark. When he was honored by his fellow Kent County Republicans earlier this year in a tribute that was a way of saying good-bye, he beamed as Republican National Committeewoman Priscilla B. Rakestraw hoisted his trouser leg to show him sockless in February.

"What a neat guy," said House Majority Leader Wayne A. Smith, a Brandywine Hundred Republican. "He was one of those happy warriors. He was the kind of gentleman who left the battles on the floor of the chamber. He was beloved by his community."

Quillen never gave out. House Minority Leader Robert F. Gilligan, a Sherwood Park Democrat, was impressed that Quillen went to the Delaware State Fair in Harrington in July even though he was on his way to political retirement.

"He loved the institution and was a great representative," Gilligan said.

Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, a Democrat who served in the legislature with Quillen, ordered state flags flown at half-staff in his memory until after his funeral.

ďI donít know of anyone who didnít like Bobby Quillen. He was an absolutely, genuinely positive person -- warm and sincere, mischievous and always chuckling. His constituents loved him because they knew he was looking out for them," Minner said in a statement released by her office. "This was a loss for Harrington, for Kent County and for Delaware.Ē

Up until Quillen's last week, he still was doing what he could to help his party keep his seat. Republican William R. Outten and Democrat Kimberly Z. Robbins are running in what is expected to be one of the most contested legislative races of the campaign season.

Although Quillen's stamina had its ups and downs during his last term, sometimes preventing him from attending legislative sessions, he was in the thick of two of the tensest debates -- on the smoking ban that was approved and the gay anti-discrimination bill that was not.

In one of those intertwined relationships rarely viewed as troubling in Delaware politics, Quillen was a director of the Harrington Raceway and took up for the state's race tracks and casinos in an effort to loosen the smoking ban that went into effect in late 2002. He teamed up with state Rep. Pamela J. Thornburg, a Dover Republican, to persuade the House to pass a bill that would relax the smoking restrictions, but it failed in the Senate.

Quillen's dedication was never on more display than during a vote on House Bill 99, the measure that would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. The legislation came up for consideration on the next to the last day of the 2003 legislative session, and Quillen was far too sick to stay in Dover for it, but he did, anyway.

He was the 21st vote needed for a majority, and without him, it would not have been approved. The measure died in the Senate, but that was not the point. "It was all about courage," Rep. William A. Oberle Jr., the Republican who was the chief sponsor, said at the time.

When Bobby Quillen was in his seat that night, the House was "never better."