Thursday, August 21, 2008

remembering stephanie tubbs jones

column by connie schultz of the cleveland plain dealer

In all the years I have known Stephanie Tubbs Jones, I have never written about her in this column.

She was a public figure, but she was also my friend. That made her off-limits for me as a journalist. But hiding behind professional boundaries now strikes me as not only cruel, but cowardly. Stephanie mattered to all kinds of people, including me.

Whenever I saw Stephanie, she almost always started the conversation by asking one question: Where'd I get my jacket? I do not believe for a moment that she always liked what I was wearing, but there was part of her that was always the cozy-up girlfriend, and that's what she called me.

"Girlfriend," she'd say, her eyes full of mischief. "What is up with . . ." Loyalty prevents me from completing the sentence. Let's just say she was full of opinions, and I was only too eager to hear them.

We became friends after I started dating her congressional colleague, Sherrod Brown. She was the star attraction at our wedding reception in 2004, where she called my burly father "baby," then pulled his face into her bosom and squeezed him like a teddy bear.

He looked like he was about to faint, but for the rest of his life he bragged about the big hug he got the first time he met "that Congresswoman Jones."

We were mothers -- full-time, all-the-time, we used to say, our smack- back to the critics of working mothers. She loved her son, Mervyn -- her "man-child," she always called him. She would reach up to touch his face and say, "Can you believe he's mine?" She loved my children, too, particularly Caitlin, who once spent an evening with Stephanie and then declared that she was "too worked up" to go to sleep.

Our friendship was forged by her to-the-bones understanding of what it means to be a woman willing to stick your neck out for your beliefs. I so appreciated never having to explain the punch line. She'd seen it all.

During the Democratic primary season, Stephanie supported Hillary Clinton early and with the kind of enthusiasm and energy that could humble campaigners half her age. She stumped for Clinton across the country, and she never let Barack Obama's growing momentum whittle away at her loyalty for her friend Hillary.

She paid a price for that, although she never saw it that way. She'd just shake her head at the foolishness of anyone who thought they could bully her into submission, but I worried about the long-term stress of so much hate. There were death threats, and behind-the-scene machination by some leaders in the black community to intimidate her. Their warning was hardly subtle: Support Obama, or we will defeat you in 2010.

"My word is all I've got," she told me during a reception in Washington shortly before Ohio's primary. "This isn't about race. It's about experience, and personal history. I gave my word to Hillary that I would fight for her to the very end, and that's exactly what I am going to do."

She did, too, knowing full well that forces were underfoot to make her pay.

"No fear, girlfriend," she told me. "I got no time for fear."

Stephanie once stood in my kitchen and pointed to a magnet I'd stitched years ago: Say What You Mean, and Mean What You Say.

"Got that right," she said, kissing my cheek and laughing. "And we're not shutting up anytime soon, are we?"

Stephanie Tubbs Jones has been silenced by the only force that had the right, or the might, to say her time was up. God always has his reasons, but I am at a loss to explain them.

This I do know: I am braver because I knew her. And I ain't shutting up any time soon.

Count on it, girlfriend.

1 comment:

jolie said...

beautiful eulogy from her friend, connie schultz. we've just lost a hero ...

I didn't know the congresswoman, but found her steadfast support of senator clinton inspiring. in face of all the pressure to change her mind, she held fast. her word was her bond. that's hard to find, these days.