baldwin

Pamela Joan Bin-Rella, center, with her daughter, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, and former Vice President Joe Biden at Baldwin's U.S. Senate swearing-in ceremony in 2012.

COURTESY SEN. TAMMY BALDWIN'S OFFICE

The mother of U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Pamela Joan Bin-Rella, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 75.

Bin-Rella was a social worker, substance abuse counselor and social activist who Baldwin often credited with inspiring her to pursue a career in civil service.

“My mother faced many struggles and she was always an inspiration to me and my life's work to make a difference in people's lives,” Baldwin said in a statement. “I will carry her kind soul forever in my heart.”

An obituary submitted to the Cap Times said Bin-Rella saw her daughter as her “pride and joy.”

A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, Bin-Rella was a former social worker with Dane County Social Services who provided services to abused and neglected children and their families.

She married Joseph Edward Baldwin Jr. in 1961, but they divorced around the time of Baldwin’s birth.

While Baldwin was raised in Madison by her grandparents, she maintained a close relationship with her mother.

“My mother was always in the picture,” she said in an interview with Makers, in which she said her mother had a “rebellious streak.”

“I saw her engaged in politics in the streets,” Baldwin said. “She would participate in marches and rallies.”

In 1971 Bin-Rella married Yusuf Bin-Rella. While that marriage, too, ended in divorce, she maintained a close relationship with the Bin-Rella family.

She worked as a home care aide while working toward a master’s degree at St. Mary’s College in Winona, Minnesota, which she completed in 1981, going on to complete a chemical dependency training program at Madison General Hospital.

Bin-Rella worked several jobs as a counselor, including stints as a counselor coordinator in Shawano, a mental health crisis intervention coordinator at the Menominee County Human Services Department, a chemical dependency counselor at Langlade Health Care Center in Antigo, and a mental health and employee assistance counselor at Hazelden and Ceridian treatment centers in Minneapolis. She also worked for a Safe House transitional living program for adults with mental illness and substance abuse issues.

As Madison as it gets: Get Cap Times' highlights sent daily to your inbox

In 1991 she earned a license as an independent clinical social worker.

Her choice of career reflected her own struggles with mental illness and addiction, which she met with “courage and humor,” said her obituary.

“Even in her last months, everyone who entered her room at Presbyterian Homes of Bloomington, MN was greeted with a smile and she was grateful to those who cared about and for her,” it said.

Bin-Rella was preceded in death by her parents, Doris and David Green. She is survived by Baldwin, her sister Rowena Matthews and two nephews, Brian and Keith Matthews.

A Memorial Service in Minneapolis is being planned. The family is asking that contributions be sent to the Southern Poverty Law Center or Heifer International in lieu of flowers.

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to tctvoice@madison.com. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.

Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.