Devastated by the tragic death of her teenage daughter Vanessa in a 2003 crash, Mary Jo Kummet-Weiss decided to do something positive about it.
While still grieving, she testified before legislators to strengthen the law for teen drivers. And she was photographed with Gov. Tim Pawlenty in May 2004 when he signed "Vanessa's Law." It withheld a driver's license until age 18 for unlicensed teen drivers involved in crashes or driving under the influence.
"She was a mother that took her grief and used it toward making things much safer on the roads for other teens," said Sharon Gehrman-Driscoll, director of Minnesotans for Safe Driving, which also lobbied for the law.
Kummet-Weiss, 57, died Sunday from breast cancer with her family nearby in her sister's Eden Prairie home, daughter Sarah Gunderson said.
Kummet-Weiss worked as an insurance agent and later as an administrative assistant for businesses and Little Falls, Minn., schools.
Former Rep. Greg Blaine, R-Little Falls, said he became chief author of the bill that became Vanessa's Law after Kummet-Weiss told him of her 15-year-old daughter's death. She was thrown from the car of an unlicensed friend in north-central Minnesota. The 15-year-old driver was speeding and lost control of her car while tuning the radio. The driver had to do community service, but took driver's training and got her license at age 16.
"I find it inconceivable that Minnesota, the DNR, has stricter penalties for the shooting of a deer without a license than it does for an unlicensed, underaged driver who causes the death of another person," Kummet-Weiss told a House committee in March 2004, the Star Tribune reported. "Help me understand why a deer's life is more important than that of my daughter."
"One of the things that impressed me is she wasn't doing this to get after the person driving the car that killed her daughter," Blaine said by phone. "The thrust of her [work] was to protect other young people so no one else had to go through what she had ... That says a lot about the character of Mary Weiss. She was a very giving person."
Carol Bufton, president of the nonprofit Minnesota Safety Council, said she admired Kummet-Weiss' selfless courage in testifying while Vanessa's loss was still fresh. She noted that last year, while gravely ill with cancer, Kummet-Weiss attended hearings and testified for a law change, effective in June 2009, that made wearing seat belts a primary offense for which officers can stop and ticket a driver.
Kummet-Weiss also raised money to publicize Vanessa's Law and spoke about safe driving to teen groups, Gunderson said. "She was very positive, no matter what was thrown her way. ... She always turned a negative into a positive."
Besides Gunderson, Kummet-Weiss is survived by her son, Joseph Weiss, of Lions Bay, British Columbia, two grandchildren, brothers John and George Kummet, both of Pierz, Minn., and a sister, Maureen Voltin of Eden Prairie.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Pax Christi Catholic Church in Eden Prairie. Visitation will be held one hour prior.