When former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder passed away last month, Colorado and the nation lost one of our most influential champions of women’s rights. She was also a fierce advocate for the needs of American families.
Much has been written about Schroeder’s work spearheading groundbreaking legislation to support families and advance the rights of women. When she started her first term in 1973, there were just 16 women in Congress. Every voice mattered – a lot – and hers was loud and passionate.
Over the next 24 years, Schroeder sponsored legislation to protect pregnant women at work, advance equitable treatment of women in the military, and increase protections for victims of domestic violence. She was relentless in her support of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which took nearly a decade to pass.
Over many years and since her death, I have reflected on the impact Schroeder had on my life and career. I had the honor of serving as a congressional aide in her Denver district office for five years, supporting her work on women, children, and family issues.
Those were pivotal years in my life and career. I worked for Pat when I had my first child, now 28. She made sure I had the time and support I needed as a new mom and working mother.
It was also when I found my passion and commitment to working on important and pressing issues.
Through experience and observation, I learned a great deal from Pat about communications strategy and practice. She had a keen mind, a quick wit, and was a talented orator.
Staff would labor over talking points for her speeches. She would then jot a couple of bullets on a napkin, take to the podium, and talk extemporaneously for an hour, laser-focused on the most important issues and messages.
The media loved her because she always brought a compelling story, delivered with memorable quips.
She referred to then-President Ronald Reagan as the “Teflon president” to describe how it seemed no controversies stuck to him. (While the controversies didn’t stick, her description of Reagan did, and was often repeated.)
When asked how she could be a mother and serve in Congress, she replied, “I have a brain and a uterus, and I use both.”
Those of us who worked with Pat also witnessed first-hand her thoughtful attention to the issues and residents of Colorado’s first congressional district.
For more than two decades, constituents called and walked into Schroeder’s offices in Denver and Washington, D.C.
Many came to advance the priorities of their organization or movement; others came to discuss more individual, personal challenges they faced. When they didn’t know where to turn, people reached out to Schroeder because they knew she would get something done. She remembered their issues and asked after their families. Handwritten notes with her iconic “Pat” signature – a smiley face in the “P” – were common.
Pat Schroeder paved the way for generations of women leaders because she lived and worked by the values and standards set by important women and feminists of history:
Say and do what’s right.
Don’t wait for permission, don’t apologize, and don’t back down.
Keep going until the job is done.
As Pat was known to say, “You can’t wring your hands and roll up your sleeves at the same time.”
The life of the Honorable Patricia Schroeder will be celebrated on Friday, April 28 at 2 p.m. (doors open at 1:30) at History Colorado Center, 1200 Broadway, Denver. The event is free and open to the public.
Susan Morrisey is the CEO and a principal at SE2. You can reach her at Susan@se2changeforgood.com