FAIRNESS DRIVES PEGGY WELCH’S ADVOCACY OF MEDICAL DEVICE INDUSTRY
By Rebecca R. Bibbs
Peggy M. Welch hurries into the Bloomington gym for her exercise class and runs into Dan Peterson, vice president of Industry & Government Affairs for Cook Medical.
On any other day, Peggy Welch said, she and Peterson would work out in the mornings, so it was unlikely they would run into one another on a chilly December 2012 evening.
But Peggy Welch is the fi rst to say she doesn’t believe in coincidences. A deeply religious woman, she would say that fateful
meeting was part of God’s design.
Peterson shares with Peggy Welch that the Indiana Medical Device Manufacturers Council (IMDMC), established in 1991 to represent the interests of the industry, is in the process of hiring its fi rst executive director.
The next morning, Peggy Welch sits down with Bloomingtonbased Cook Group Chairman Stephen L. Ferguson, who leads the search.
“They were already doing second interviews,” Peggy Welch said.
Though she applied late in the process, the former state representative’s public service and medical industry experience propelled her to the head of the short list. On Jan. 2, 2013, she stepped into the post, representing the interests of about 40 of the state’s more than 325 medical device manufacturers and associated businesses.
The oldest of three girls, Peggy Welch was born 58 years ago in Fulton, Miss., to Roger McDaniel, an educator who eventually became superintendent of Hinds County schools, and his wife, Peggy Jean, a stay-at-home mom who later went back to school.
Peggy Welch credits her cousin, the former Gayle Long, now married to Mississippi’s junior U.S. Sen. Roger F. Wicker, for instilling in her a life-long love of politics.
“She has had a profound influence on my life. She’s more like my big sister,” Peggy Welch said. Wicker was a senior in college when she invited high school senior Peggy Welch to a state rally for former President Richard M. Nixon’s running mate Spiro T. Agnew in front of the state Capitol building in Jackson, Miss.
“I got out of school that day and went to that rally. I was totally enamored with it all,” Peggy Welch said. “It was a big deal. It was the vice president–even if he was a Republican coming to your state.”
Peggy Welch was hooked.“Obviously that had a profound influence on the direction of my life because my family wasn’t involved in politics,” she said. “She was a signifi cant infl uence in my life, and that’s how I got involved in Republican politics.”
Following her cousin to Mississippi College, where Wicker had served as the fi rst female student body president, Peggy Welch became the school’s second female student body president.“I liked campaigning. I liked government.
I didn’t understand anything about policy at that time, but I liked making a diff erence,” she said. Peggy Welch also became involved
with the Mississippi Young Republicans.“People forget the South wasn’t a Republican region. It was strongly Democrat,” she said.
Following in her family’s footsteps, Welch majored in education.“It never crossed my mind to do anything else than be a teacher because that’s what my family had done,” she said. “There wasn’t a lot of encouragement to explore and do a lot of diff erent
Peggy M. Welch has received the following honors:
- Indiana university Office of Women’s aff airs
“Woman of Vision” award.
- Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce “Women excel Bloomington” award.
- National Coalition for Capital Small Business
- Indiana State Nurses
association Nyland Public Policy award.
- Indiana State Medical
Society Legislator of the
- Great Lakes american Cancer Society excalibur
award, inaugural recipient.
- Indiana Home and Hospice Welch Scholarship.
- National Highway Traffic Safety administration
Public Service award.
- American Heart association Heart of Indiana award.
- Indiana Chamber of Commerce Small Business Champion.
- Indiana Safe Kids Coalition Child Safety
- Ivy Tech State College’s 2000 Distinguished
alumnus of the Year.
Following graduation in 1977, Peggy Welch went to work for Republican Thad Cochran, who had served as head of Nixon’s 1968 campaign in Mississippi. He now is the senior U.S. senator from the Magnolia State.
“He was the first Republican of stature since Reconstruction in the South,” she said.
Peggy Welch moved to Washington, D.C., to work as a special projects coordinator and caseworker to Cochran, who at the time was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. A couple of years later, she became his legislative assistant.
Early in her career in the nation’s capital, a friend from Mississippi set Peggy Welch up on a blind date with a George Mason University law student from Indiana. David Welch worked for Democrat Max Cleland, administrator of the United States
Veterans Administration under President Jimmy Carter.
The couple married in June 1979. Though on the surface they may have appeared as mismatched as the highprofile Clinton-era duo Democrat James Carville and Republican Mary Matalin, Peggy Welch said the relationship with her husband wasn’t quite as
“He had a similar faith walk that I did,” she said. “Politics were important to him like they were for me, and he had goals of being in politics.”
When Carter lost his second term in the White House, the Welches, who always planned to settle in Bloomington,
left for Indiana four years earlier than anticipated.
The couple quickly became involved in what is now Sherwood Oaks Christian
Church, and Peggy Welch worked
as a substitute teacher in the Monroe County Community School Corp. That’s when she learned K-12 education wasn’t her calling after all.
“I enjoy teaching, but I prefer teaching adults to kids,” she said.
Soon, however, Peggy Welch found herself preoccupied with a child of her own.
“We moved to Bloomington and found ourselves unexpectedly pregnant. It was fine, and it was fun,” she said. “There’s never any great time to be pregnant.”
Ready to return to work a year and a half after the birth of her only child David Welch Jr., Peggy Welch was in the market for a job. She went to the newly created Monroe County Probation Department, hoping to land a job as a secretary. She walked out a probation officer and as the first director of the Monroe County Community Corrections Program.
“This is how I’ve been blessed, sort of how my life goes,” she said. In 1990, David Welch, who in the meantime had hung out his shingle and practiced law, announced he wanted to run for circuit judge. He became the
first to unseat a judge since the early
His decision, however, meant Peggy Welch had to resign since her position would have presented a conflict of interest.
“I thought, ‘ What can I do when I grow up?’ ” she said.
While pregnant with her son, Peggy Welch said, she loved her Lamaze class and became interested in childbirth education. About the time she became a probation officer, Peggy Welch took her initial step into the medical field by becoming a certified childbirth educator.
The logical next step was for Peggy Welch to enroll in a registered nursing program at Ivy Tech Community College, where she earned an associate’s degree in 1995. Following graduation, she was hired as a nurse at Indiana University Health Bloomington Hospital as a critical care nurse.
“I don’t need adrenaline rushes in my life to be happy. Just waiting on someone to code did not appeal to me,” she said. Peggy Welch switched to oncology nursing where she remained until May 2013.
Around 1998, Peggy Welch was approached to run as a Democrat against Republican Jeff Ellington for the District 60 seat that had been a stronghold of the Republican state Rep. Jerry Bales.
“The Democrats had quit running anyone against Jerry Bales because he was well-liked, a populist. He was
unbeatable,” she said.
David Welch, who had run unsuccessfully for the Indiana Legislature in 1986, encouraged his wife to run.
“He said, ‘You would be perfect for this. You should be the one to do it.’ I was resistant for about a month,” she said. “My husband said after a month,‘Quit saying no and get wise counsel.’” Even with Bales out of the race, Pegg Welch said, the district was 60 percent Republican. And as a woman, she wasn’t certain she was up to the challenge.
"We always think we’re never smart enough or good enough, where men never question whether they are suited for the job,” she said.
“I sought wise counsel from a lot of different places. I did a lot of praying.” David Welch acknowledged his wife would need to pull in some of the Republican votes in order to win. But if anyone could do it, she could, he said.“I knew that she is very outgoing.
She’s very friendly; she’s very open; she’s very honest,” he said. “She is real ethical. She is not interested in doing anything that would question her integrity or values.”
Peggy Welch admitted that in spite of her extensive political background,
she was a little naïve going into the race. Then-Speaker of the House John Gregg and then-House Majority Leader Mark Kruzan, who now is mayor of Bloomington, told her politics is dirty.
“I told them I would not do anything negative in campaigning and not even to ask me. I maintained that promise to myself,” she said. “It was all about being real and putting people first and not being negative. If I couldn’t win on who I was and what I had to offer, it wasn’t worth winning. I didn’t want to win by destroying someone else’s reputation.”
Peggy Welch said her resolve to stay away from negative campaigning was a reflection of her faith.
But her personal vow didn’t stop opponents from trying to smear her name, even if it meant lying.
“I’m not a crier, but I think I cried more in that campaign than I ever have,” she said. “I didn’t understand, how are they lying and still calling themselves Christians… My church life box shouldn’t be any different than the way I work at home, or at work or at church.”
Eventually, Peggy Welch said, she realized others are able to compartmentalize and may not even realize what they do sometimes runs contrary to what they say they believe.
“We all compartmentalize. We have to,” she said. “By understanding compartmentalizing, it helped me learn to more easily forgive and let go when people aren’t being nice.
David Welch noted even though his wife vowed to stay away from negative campaigning, it sometimes was more challenging to control her supporters. At one point, he said, Peggy Welch threatened not to take office if supporters engaged in negative campaigning.
“She’d rather not win than take the office through negative campaigning,” he said. “I think it’s extraordinary in politics. It’s not special; it’s extraordinary.”
SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS
“Had she been exposed to medicine prior to when she became a nurse, to me, she would have been a doctor. It wouldn’t have surprised me if she’d gone into medicine and politics at the
same time. I feel she missed her
calling not going into the medical
field as a doctor.”
“To everybody’s surprise, including my own, I won. I was very fortunate to be reelected six times,” Peggy Welch said. As a state representative, she served on the House Ways and Means, Public Health, Government Reduction and State Budget committees. In addition, she served on the Health Finance and Military Base Planning commissions as well as the Select Joint Commission on Medicaid.
Her legacy was impacting the fiscal health and the physical health of the state and its residents, Peggy Welch said. That includes, for instance, passing legislation that reduced legal blood alcohol levels from .10 to .08.
“We know we’re saving lives with that,” she said.
Peggy Welch also sponsored legislation requiring booster seats for children to age 8.
“We know there are children alive today and children protected from injury because of that legislation,” she said. David Welch said his wife was a uniquely effective legislator.
“She was able to reach across the aisle and get things done, which others who were partisan could not get done, Republican or Democrat,” he said. “She was able to talk to both sides and could come up with acceptable compromises that would enable legislation to pass. She has incredible integrity, which means that both sides trust her.”
As a legislator, Peggy Welch also returned to the classroom as a teacher of sorts, visiting fourth-graders learning about Indiana history. She said she hoped her presence in the classroom sparked an interest in politics in some of the students.
“I gave Morgan County my heart and soul,” she said.
In 2010, however, the Democrats lost control of the House, and the Republicans were in a position to redraw the district boundaries. The result was to Peggy Welch’s disadvantage, causing her to lose the November 2012 election to Republican Peggy Mayfield.
“The maps were drawn in such a way so it would be difficult for me to be reelected,” Peggy Welch said. “I lost the
district that I’d been serving. I think I was the only person surprised I lost.“I was heartbroken because I loved serving in the Legislature. And I loved affecting public policy. Every legislator thinks everything they do is life and death.” Moving on
Peggy Welch’s position as IMDMC executive director has helped her heal from the disappointment of losing the election.
Now, as an independent contractor, she spends her time raising the medical device council’s visibility.
“If I didn’t know what IMDMC was, there was nobody at the Statehouse who knew what IMDMC was,” she said.“IMDMC now has a presence with the federal legislators and their staffs. They didn’t have that before.”
In addition to her many years of public service, Peggy Welch has lent her expertise in a number of other capacities, such as the Harrison College Board of Trustees, the executive advisory council of the Indiana chapter of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association and the state attorney general’s Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force.
Though she’d continued working as a nurse, even while serving in the Legislature, the former lawmaker recently gave up her part-time job at the hospital.“I want the freedom to be able to be a grandmother,” said Peggy Welch, whose
son married in 2008 and is father to Giacomo, 2, and Kaylan, 1.
In her spare time, Peggy Welch also likes to serve on Sherwood Oaks Christian Church’s Praise and Worship, and Medical Response teams.
Mary Swoope said her sister’s latest appointment with the IMDMC is a perfect fit, allowing Peggy Welch to draw on
her medical expertise while supporting a
cause in which she believes.
“Had she been exposed to medicine prior to when she became a nurse, to me, she would have been a doctor,” she said.“It wouldn’t have surprised me if she’d gone into medicine and politics at the same time. I feel she missed her calling not going into the medical field as a doctor.”
Her advocacy for Indiana’s medical device industry also allows Peggy Welch to exercise her sense of fairness and justice, Swoope said. “She’s not afraid to take on people, to take on an issue. I think she’s in the right spot.”
Angela Parker befriended Peggy Welch when they both worked for the probation department. Parker describes her friend of 32 years as enthusiastic, smart and consistent with a strong sense of integrity.
“Peggy puts 110 percent into everything she does. And she is one of those people who is a finisher. A lot of them are
starters, those who fail to complete. That is not Peggy.”