LINCOLN — Former State Sen. Jennie Robak of Columbus was remembered Saturday as a principled lawmaker who was willing to take unpopular positions.
“She was a senator who was not afraid to take a stand, whether or not it was popular with her constituency or her faith,” said a friend, former Sen. Marian Price of Lincoln.
“It caused controversy ... but Jennie was a very strong individual and a very good representative of her community up in Columbus.”
Robak, 81, died Friday after she was struck by a car backing up in the parking lot of a Hy-Vee Supermarket in southeast Lincoln.
She was the mother of six children, including former Lt. Gov. Kim Robak, now a Lincoln lobbyist.
Police Capt. Jon Sundermeier said the 88-year-old driver of the backing car apparently didn’t see Jennie Robak, who was walking, and accelerated in response to others’ shouts to her to stop.
Robak, a Democrat, was elected to the Legislature in 1988. She petitioned her way onto the ballot and defeated Sen. Helen Campbell, who had been appointed to the seat by then-Gov. Kay Orr.
Robak was re-elected three times before being defeated in 2002 by Arnie Stuthman.
A Catholic, Robak opposed a ban on fetal-tissue research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. That cost her the support of anti-abortion groups. She defended her stance, saying fetal-tissue research would not encourage abortions. She rejected claims that her position was influenced by her daughter, Kim, then a vice president at NU.
Price, who is divorced, said she and the widowed Robak accompanied each other to many legislative events because both were single.
“She was a delight,” Price said. “She loved a gathering.”
Another former state senator, Nancy Thompson of Papillion, said Robak was an early advocate for the mentally ill. Robak introduced bills to require insurance coverage for such illness.
“She was willing to stand up for those who may not have had a strong voice,” Thompson said.
Robak also was an advocate for legalizing casinos in Nebraska and for requiring seat belts on school buses.
She helped pass a law against hate crimes and cast votes against the death penalty. In 2006, she headed a group of Democrats who supported then-State Sen. Adrian Smith, a Republican, in his run for Congress.
Robak also was a disaster volunteer for the American Red Cross and flew to hurricane- and tornado-stricken communities to help coordinate emergency response.