Barbara Carlson, who died Monday at age 80, was a one-of-a-kind Minnesota personality — loud, often outrageous and always interesting.
She was a Minneapolis City Council member, a candidate for mayor, the ex-wife of a governor and the host of a popular talk radio show.
When Gov. Rudy Perpich wanted to build the Perpich Center for Arts Education in Minneapolis, a project supported by Perpich's wife Lola, Council Member Carlson had concerns, and made her point in trademark Carlson fashion.
"I was concerned about the $3 million up front that they wanted from the city of Minneapolis," she recalled in an interview with MPR News. "So I pulled out a tape with the discussion and all of a sudden the record said, 'Whatever Lola wants ... ' Well, the council went nuts. Every light went on. They went just absolutely crazy."
Carlson was born in Anoka, the daughter of a lumber yard owner. She worked in real estate. In her late 20s she married Arne Carlson, who would later become governor. They had two kids, and divorced in 1977.
She paved her own way, jumping into politics just a few years later and building a reputation as someone who understood how to get attention on her side of an issue.
"She was iconic," said Tom Hoch, who helped her in her initial campaign for City Council in 1981 and remained close to her until her death. "The funny thing about Barbara is that there was this sort of conflict. We loved her for who she was, and sometimes we were simultaneously shaking our head for what we saw."
Carlson was a fiscal conservative, who as a City Council member questioned some safety-net programs. But she also had an independent/liberal streak, publicly advocating for condom use and safe sex, speaking out against violence toward gay men in Minneapolis and supporting women's rights. She would later leave the Republican Party.
A conservative and often in the minority, she said as she was leaving the City Council that she found ways to cooperate when she could, but wasn't afraid to be the contrarian.
"They always knew that if I didn't like something, I would go public with it," she said. "And I think it made them have to have their facts in greater order, and they knew that they would have to justify their position."
She retired from the City Council in 1989 and started a popular talk radio show on KSTP, often hosting it from a hot tub. She ran for Minneapolis mayor in 1997, but lost to Sharon Sayles Belton.
Anne Carlson, Barbara's daughter, said her mother would often take in people who were down on their luck.
"And they became family," she said. "You didn't know, this is so and so who's had several children and didn't have anywhere to go. They were just part of our Christmases."
Anne said her mother taught her and her brother to be generous, to not be afraid to change and to make themselves heard.
"She was an amazing trailblazer. She was just a really amazing woman," she said.
Friends and family celebrated Carlson's life together with Carlson in February, shortly after she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
Anne Carlson said the family hopes to have a public memorial celebration in Minneapolis.