Barbara Mikulski

Remembering Geraldine Ferraro - March 29, 2011

Barbara Mikulski
March 29, 2011— U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C.
Congressional floor speech
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U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, paid tribute to the life of Geraldine Ferraro in a speech on the Senate floor.

We come to the floor with a heavy heart and great sadness. Geraldine Ferraro, a former Member of the United States House of Representatives, a Congresswoman from New York who was the first woman to be nominated by a major party for Vice President, has lost her gallant and persistent fight against cancer and has passed away.

I thank the leadership for offering the resolution noting the many contributions she made to America and to express condolences to her family.

For we women, before 1960, Gerry was a force of nature, a powerhouse. She changed American politics. She changed the way women thought of themselves and what we believed we could accomplish.

On July 11, 1984, when Walter Mondale called Gerry Ferraro and asked her to be his Vice Presidential running mate, an amazing thing happened. They took down the ``men only'' sign on the White House. For Gerry and all American women, there was no turning back, only going forward.

America knows Gerry as a political phenomenon. I knew her as a dear friend and colleague. We served in the House together in the late 1970s. She left in 1984 to run for Vice President, and I left in 1986 to run for the Senate. We were among the early-bird women in the House of Representatives. And as early birds, we were not afraid to ruffle some feathers. We had some good times and passed some good legislation. It must be historically noted that when Gerry came to the House in 1979, only 16 women were there. In 1984, when she left, we had moved to 23. But in 2011, on the day of her death, 74 women now serve in the House, 50 Democrats, 24 Republicans, and 26 of those women are women of color.

In the Congress, Gerry was a fighter. She was a fighter for New York. She fought for transit, for tunnels. She loved earmarks, earmarks that would help move her community forward. She also fought for the little guy and gal. She was known for her attention to constituent services--the senior getting a Social Security check, the vet who needed his disability benefits, the kid from a blue-collar neighborhood like herself who wanted to go to college. And she fought for women. She fought for our status and she gave us a new stature.

When the campaign was over, she continued for all of her life to be a source of inspiration and empowerment for women. In those early days of the second wave of the American women's movement, the movement defined women on what we did not have, what we did not have access to. What was it we didn't have? Equal pay for equal work. It is hard to believe we were not included in research protocols at NIH. And when it came to having access to credit, we could not get a loan or a mortgage in our own name in many circumstances. We needed a husband, a father, or a brother to sign for it. But when Gerry was chosen for Vice President, she showed us what we could be, what modern women in America had become. Women felt if we could go for the White House, we could go for anything. Gerry inspired.

On the night of July 19, 1984, in San Francisco at the Mosconi Center, Gerry gave her acceptance speech. She became the first woman to be nominated for Vice President for a major party. What a night. I was there--the thrill, the excitement in the room, the turbo energy that was there: 10,000 people jammed the Mosconi Center. Guy delegates gave their tickets away to alternates, to their daughters, to people who worked and helped out. They wanted to be there. People brought their children. They carried them. They put them on their shoulders to see what was about to occur.

When Gerry Ferraro walked on that stage, she electrified all of us. The convention gave her a 10-minute standing and resounding ovation. We couldn't sit down because we knew a barrier had been broken. And for the rest, as she history, there would be more on the way.

The campaign was hard fought. She traveled over 55,000 miles, visited 85 cities, campaigned her heart out. But it was not meant to be. The ticket lost to Reagan-Bush. But though she lost the election, she did not lose her way. Gerry never gave up and never gave in. Her storied career continued: a teacher at Harvard, a U.N. Ambassador on human rights, always teaching, always inspiring, always empowering thousands of women here and around the world.

Then in 1998, she was diagnosed with blood cancer. Once again, she was determined not to give up and not to give in. She began the greatest campaign of her life. She began the campaign for her own life. She fought her cancer. She not only fought her cancer, she also fought for cancer victims. She forged a relationship with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison as well as my friendship. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison will tell the story herself. Her brother Allan Bailey suffered from the same disease as Gerry. They met through an advocacy group on multiple myeloma. Allan Bailey and Gerry Ferraro joined hands and joined together and Kay Bailey Hutchison and I did, and we introduced the Gerry Ferraro Research Investment and Education Act. I wanted it to be Ferraro-Bailey, but Allan graciously said, Gerry is a marquis name. She will attract a lot of attention, and we can get more money for research and more interest in this dreaded disease.

That legislation passed. It showed sometimes when we come together out of common adversity, we find common cause and we get things done. That bill passed, and it is changing lives.

Gerry did various clinical trials. Often we talked. This is what she said to me during the last few weeks. She said: I am glad I could be in those clinical trials. In many ways they helped me live. But we also knew the research would provide lessons so that others could live. Once again, her mantra was: Never give up, never give in. She had toughness, persistence, tenacity, and unfailing optimism in the face of adversity.

I believe it came from her own compelling and often riveting story. It was that personal story that brought us together. We were both from European ethnic backgrounds: She Italian, my proud Polish heritage. We grew up in neighborhoods that were urban villages. Her father owned a small neighborhood dime store. My father owned a grocery store, and they were very much involved with their customers and community. We had strong mothers who wanted to make sure we had good educations. When Gerry's dad died, Gerry's mother took a job in the garment industry. She sewed little beads on wedding dresses to make sure her brother and Gerry had an education. Gerry did have that education. She went to Marymount. She became a scholarship girl because she was so smart and had so much talent. She felt it was the nuns who played such a big part in her life. They coached her to be smart, and they coached her to be a great debater. They taught her about her faith. For her, her faith was about the beatitudes, especially the one that said: Hunger and thirst after justice.

The other day when Gerry and I were talking, she reminded me that not only did she go to Marymount, but so did Lady Gaga. She said: I am just sorry I can't live to go to more alumni associations.

Then there was John, her beloved husband, a love story for the ages. I was there at the church over a year ago when they renewed their vows for their 50th anniversary. Their vows were not just for a day or for a year or a decade. They believed their vows were for an eternity. Gerry loved her husband, and she loved her children Donna, John, and Laura. She was so proud of them--one a doctor, one an accomplished businessman, another a TV producer and also worked on Wall Street. And the grandchildren, there were always the pictures and the stories of their many storied accomplishments.

Gerry Ferraro loved her family. She loved her extended family. That went to her friends and her community. She loved America. Because she believed, as she said to me: Only in America, Barbara, could somebody who started out in a regular neighborhood, whose father passed away, leaving a mother who taught her grit and determination, go on to run for the Vice Presidency of the United States, to be an Ambassador for human rights, and to make a difference in the lives of her family and her community.

Gerry, we will miss you, but your legacy will live forever.

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