Remarks: Diana Davis Spencer

Editor’s note: The following is a transcript of Diana Davis Spencer’s remarks upon receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award, delivered at the 2022 Annual Awards Gala.

Abby Moffat: What an evening this is, wow! It’s so good to be among friends. We really have to give a huge thank you to the staff of IWF, again, for all that they do. This is a true honor to introduce my mother, Diana Davis Spencer. It’s not an easy task when you only have a few minutes to introduce an extraordinary woman who has done so much with her life, but let me first talk about you all. All of you are – love our country, love people, love our God, and love fighting for the cause of good, so I want to thank you all. My mother, Diana, has the same beliefs as each and every one of you in this room. She grew up with patriotic beliefs. She grew up with a fighting spirit. She grew up with Winston Churchill ringing in her ear, never give up, never give up. She learned to ride horses at a young age, which really helped her later in life. If you can handle wild horses, you can handle Washington D.C., don’t you think?

She also learned how to ski the very difficult moguls, and I think that really prepared her for life. And as Robert Frost would say, he took – there are two paths, and he could have taken either path, and my mother was the same. She could have married an investment banker-type, or she could have married an educator, because she grew up with finance and education as part of her life. She grew up with a desire to be curious and to know, and hunger for knowledge. Fortunately, she picked the educator, my late father, John Means Spencer. And as I said earlier, I’m glad she learned to ride horseback as a small child because my father was not only an educator but a farmer. He had 1,200 acres and at first, when they met, she wondered what they really had in common because she had just come back from Russia, and my father spent the summer on the farm, but they soon realized that they had a lot in common and they developed an incredible life together and brought two girls, myself and my sister Kim, into the world. It wasn’t easy because both of us have challenges, learning challenges, but as I say, she said, never give up. I didn’t. She fought for us. She fought for a special needs bill in the state of Massachusetts. She became an accomplished journalist, writing articles that no one else would write about. She was ahead of her time, writing articles about blended families. Who even knew in the ‘70s and ‘80s anything about blended families? Well, she was ahead of her time. She wrote an article about a famous cow named Elsie, the Borden Cow. Elsie happened to come from our farm.

So, she lived life, and she was always a fighter, always willing to do her best. She’s done her best as a mother, as a wife, and as an advocate, and as head of the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation. She has grown this foundation into an incredible organization, and I am truly honored and privileged to work with her every day and to learn from her. She is one of the great minds. She reads four newspapers a day, and when she misses a day, she keeps them on her bed to read them, so there’s no news article that she does not know about. She also reads other articles on the internet. She’s constantly learning and driving the foundation to what it is today, and she will continue. She is not retiring. Retirement is when you die, so fortunately she’s a go-getter, and her grandchildren Spencer and Julia – Julia is here tonight with us, I’m so thankful – they call her go-go, because whether she’s on the ski slopes or in the boardroom, she is a go-go. So, without further ado, let’s bring up Diana Davis Spencer to get the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Heather Higgins: If I can interrupt the music for just a minute, what Diana doesn’t know, and what Abby doesn’t even know, because Abby is often a coconspirator who knows a lot more than she lets on, is that Diana has done so much, not only for IWF, which we are deeply grateful for, but also for so many in need with her philanthropy for this country, with her ideas and the things that she supports, and is a role model for so many that this lifetime achievement award is henceforth going to be called the Diana Davis Spencer Lifetime Achievement Award.

Diana Davis Spencer: Thank you. Well, good evening. And how special to be introduced by my wonderful, talented daughter Abby. No bias here. I often call her Dear Abby because she advises so many and frankly gives better advice than what you’d find in The New York Times. What a memorable night. To celebrate Independent Women’s Forum, its big 30th, with its dynamic leader, Carrie Lukas, and the legendary Alex Donner Orchestra. I’m so honored to receive IWF’s Lifetime Achievement Award and to be amongst such distinguished honorees. I’m especially grateful to IWF for keeping the flames of freedom alive. Ralph Waldo Emerson advised do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. That’s IWF.

And also, that’s my amazing mother, Catherine Davis, a trailblazer who firmly believed that each of us can make a difference in our community, in our country, and the world. People-to-people diplomacy was her signature. At four years of age, my precocious mother learned from dinner conversation that women here in America did not have the right to vote. So, she insisted on joining my strong-willed grandmother in the big suffragette march in Philadelphia where they waved their yellow flags. Indeed, women must have a voice and a vote. Then, paving her own trail, this recent Wellesley college grad joined a legendary anthropologist and ten others on a two-week horseback trek in the rugged Caucasus Mountains. Two days out, bandits stole all their food, leaving only two horses. However, they journeyed on, surviving on wild goat, berries, cooked grass, and water from streams. In 1929, women travelers, especially to the USSR, were indeed a rarity, but this didn’t deter my mother. This venture sparked her lifelong fascination with Russia, even writing her Ph.D. dissertation on the Soviets in Geneva. When the USSR opened up to Americans in 1959, our family traveled to this Iron Curtain country. Thus began my mother’s Russian travels, 35 trips in all, three for me, to this vast country. In 1959, there were commodity scarcities and tight constraints on what we did and what we said. Our guide was a watchdog, and we were warned that our hotel rooms were bugged. However, in the ‘90s there were fewer constraints for tourists, and my mother found a way to go to such places as a daycare center, an auto plant, even a casino and wedding palace. She shared her behind-the-scenes experiences, giving talks around the country, hopeful that people-to-people diplomacy could bring better understanding between these two world powers, countries pivotal to peace.

In the late ‘90s, my mother traveled to Cuba with an organization promoting free Cuba. I was with her. We brought suitcases full of pharmaceuticals, computers, books, even soap, a rare commodity. Our Cuban hosts, Freemasons, introduced us to a young woman who headed the free library movement. In her small apartment, she housed censored books which could be taken out on loan for a week. Her husband had been in prison and put in isolation 18 years for his leadership in the free Cuban movement. Somehow, we also managed to get into an elementary school, where there were large photographs of revolutionaries on all the walls, reminding the children of these heroes. And in a dimly lit tobacco factory nearby, we observed over a hundred workers seated in rows rolling tobacco leaves in their seats deemed designated for life. Indeed, a dim future. These travels made me acutely appreciative of our precious freedoms which we all take for granted.

I’m very proud of my grandson Spencer, a Rice grad who felt so passionate about giving back to our country that he joined the Army. In his basic training each morning, soldiers recited the Soldier’s Creed. The last line reads, I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life. As Ronald Reagan reminded us, “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was like when in the United States where men were free.” Once again, congratulations, IWF. You’re such a force and catalyst preserving our exceptional land of the free. Thank you.