Commentary

Susan J. Demas: Lansing is a darker place without Kelly Rossman-McKinney

November 10, 2021 10:41 am

Attorney General spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney | Susan J. Demas

I’m not supposed to be working right now, but one of the things that popped into my head yesterday as I was hiking up a pass was that I should see if Kelly would want to talk for a few minutes about her amazing life. 

Anyone in Lansing knows that if you’re talking about Kelly, you mean Kelly Rossman-McKinney, 67, who rose from a legislative secretary to become the unquestionably most powerful PR executive in the Capital City and finished her career again in public service in the attorney general’s office.

Kelly Rossman-McKinney

I doubted she would want to, given her long battle with cancer. And Kelly’s gift, anyway, was never making it about herself and effortlessly making everyone feel important. She would take out young reporters, wannabe politicos and PR interns for lunches and coffee, especially women, because mentorship wasn’t just an industry buzzword with her. I first got the Kelly treatment when I was a political reporter down in Jackson 15 years ago and she invited me to dinner after I annoyingly corrected some bigwig at a post-2006 election autopsy. Eleven years later, she did the same thing for my daughter during one of her first internships.

Whenever I had to deal with the Lansing Old Boys Network over the years, Kelly was one of my first calls, because she’d seen it all — and managed to come out on top. She was always spot-on with advice, from when I needed to leave a toxic workplace to when I bought my own publication and more. 

“The best motivation I ever received has been from those who said I couldn’t or wouldn’t,” Kelly said in an interview after winning one of her many awards.

She had many friends — and some enemies, but they were the ones you wanted, like headline-craving former state Sen. Rick Jones, who oafishly tangled with her and lost. (A fun part of a small town like Lansing is that you usually have to continue to work with or around people who try and take you down). I would never say I was one of her close friends — there was a generation between us and she had so many — but she was always someone you could count on. She was someone who made Lansing a better place, which isn’t easy to do.

Dana Nessel had told me things weren’t going well with Kelly. So when Kelly and I last talked, I promptly burst into tears. True to form, she ended up consoling me (“I’ve had a great life! Look, I got to meet you. I got to see you go from young reporter to big executive. How great is that?”) You have to be an incredibly special person to be able to do that until the very end. I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone else with that gift (genuinely, not politicians).

Attorney General Dana Nessel and Kelly Rossman-McKinney | Susan J. Demas

So we talked about our kids and husbands and agreed that it was impossible to go through a pandemic and everything else with someone who didn’t make you laugh every day. Then she asked me how next year’s election was going, which was when I knew things really weren’t going well, because Kelly’s forgotten more about politics than most reporters in Lansing will ever know. So, I squeezed my pundit hat back on — it had been awhile — and droned on for about a half-hour about nothing terribly important. But I was more than happy to do so because it seemed to relax her and her observations were as dead-on as always.

When I saw Dana’s eulogy on Tuesday, “There will never be another Kelly Rossman-McKinney,” I really didn’t want to read anymore. I just sat there numb for a while.

These last two years have been a time of such tremendous loss for everyone and sometimes it’s hard to comprehend it all. I keep thinking of all the young women who will come to the Capitol and never know her. Kelly Rossman-McKinney was a hell of a lady. And Lansing is a darker place now without her.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 21-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 4,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 70 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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