October 9, 2007

Ricky and I were happily married, indeed blissfully happily married, for almost fifty years.  I have spoken of our love affair at her funeral.  Tonight she is honored as a woman of valor, so I will focus on her courage.
She fought breast cancer with hope and optimism and determination for seven years.  I sometimes thought she was in denial, but towards the end I realized she knew how sick she was – perhaps had always known – but she did not want me and her children to know that she knew.  In her last months, she even blithely described how my life would proceed after she died.  
But everyone faces death – her courage in that context was not unique.  There were, however, a number of occasions when her behavior richly merited this posthumous award.
When we were married, Ricky did not think of herself as brave – nor, in that era, did she regard bravery as a particularly important characteristic for a woman.  At college I wanted to enter a parachute jumping contest for first-time jumpers.  She was so frightened she threatened to break the engagement.  As an indication as to how much she changed after twenty-five years, she bought a parachute jump for my 46th birthday.  To be sure, at the time, there were associates of mine who speculated that her motivation was not benign, but I knew she was telling me that she had conquered her fear.
And a good thing it was because a few years later, as she embarked on a career in public service, her courage was repeatedly tested and she never flinched.
As the Vice Chairman of the EEOC, she tangled with a formidable Washington lobby, the AARP.  She believed that workers should have the right, so long as they were not coerced, to accept early retirement packages.  The AARP strongly disagreed and attacked her mercilessly.  It attempted to stop her confirmation when she was renominated for her second full term as a Commission member.  I advised her to make a courtesy call on Orin Hatch, then the ranking member of the Labor Committee.  She did, but then took the opportunity to upbraid him for supporting the reappointment of another Commissioner that she and Clarence Thomas opposed.  I gently pointed out that her approach was not the most diplomatic for one seeking confirmation, but that did not faze her – and she was confirmed unanimously.  
Perhaps her most public demonstration of courage was her indefatigable support for her dear friend, Clarence, in his Supreme Court confirmation struggle.  She appeared almost every day on TV (after getting up very early in the morning – which for her was the ultimate sacrifice).  She defended him against horrid and false accusations.  She vouched for Clarence again and again, disregarding the cost in broken personal relations and the attacks on her own integrity.  And, as you know, this organization was created by Ricky and several women she enlisted to help in the confirmation fight.
Towards the end of her second full term as a Commissioner, she was recruited from the EEOC by Glen Nager to be the first executive director (the senior full time employee) of the new Congressional Office of Compliance.  The office was created by legislation applying EEO and labor laws to Congress.  Despite the fact that the legislation was the first item in the famous “Contract with America,” she found herself rather quickly in a struggle with the Republican leadership – particularly Bill Thomas, the Chairman of the House Administration Committee.  Thomas, not well known for his gentle approach, let it be known that she was to regard herself as a private and he as the general.  She sweetly replied to his emissary that she regarded Congressmen as the regulated class and she was the regulator.  Rather quickly she gained the sobriquet as “that woman,” but again she was not fazed.
In a particularly cruel twist of fate, the very month she retired in 2000, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  As she was struggling with her treatment, a disgruntled IWF employee, apparently seizing the opportunity, led an insurrection that targeted the leadership of this organization.  I begged her to resign as Chairman of IWF and devote her energy to fighting her disease.  She would not hear of it; the IWF was simply too important to her.  She would not leave the post of Chairman until long after the revolt was defeated, the IWF regained its prominence, and she could pass the chairmanship on to Heather.
Ricky never looked for fights – political or otherwise – she was really a gentle, compassionate soul who hated strife, but she would not turn tail and run no matter the threat or pressure; she was a woman of valor.