Monday, May 16, 2005

Her legacy lives on in those whose lives she touched

Although she was born in Foo Chow China, she wasn't Chinese. Although she had all the benefits of an upper middle class life, most of it was spent working to benefit those who had less. Though she had a passionate liberal streak a mile wide, she was one of the most respectful people I've ever known, even to those without the benefit of her liberal perspective.

I didn't meet her 'til she was 76 years old, but the day I met her she was out cross-country skiing. She was a textbook example of how to live life, then how to greet death. She found out last Thursday that she was going to die, then on Saturday she passed on. At home. In bed. If you've gotta go, but there aren't that many more better ways to say adieu than that.

She was former Vermont State Senator Jean Ankeney. Jean was an old school liberal, and if you don't know what that means, let me illustrate. When she lived in Cleveland as the wife of a surgeon, she started a library in a very rough, decidedly un-white neighborhood. Active in family planning, once she moved to Vermont she established the first Planned Parenthood outlet there. Jean thought life should, if at all possible, make sense. Things like libraries and Planned Parenthood are great dispensers of sense.

In 1992 the leader of the Democratic Party in Chittenden County came to her and asked her to run for the state senate. She didn't really want to, but she figured if this young man could raise kids, complete his residency at the local hospital to become a doctor, all while being a lieutenant Governor at the same time, maybe she could give that Senate seat a run. So she told Howard Dean that she'd do it. And did. And won re-election four more times.

She and the soon-to-be Governor Dean went head-to-head a lot, though. His inflexibility on balancing the budget conflicted often with her primary focus: early childhood development and education issues. Governments often find spending wherein there's not a statue or a building to put a plaque on the most expendible, when something's got to go. But she and Dean came together more often than not, and remained friends to the end.

There are many kinds of great people in this world. Some demand attention and adulation, which powers their efforts. But some of the great ones just go about their work quietly, their determination to make this world a better place quiet, but resolute. Jean made no more noise than she had to, but her efforts were felt in large and small ways. Vermont without her would have still been a wonderful place, but less so.

I thank the powers that be that Jean's and my paths crossed. I think she made me a better person without my even knowing it.


Blogger progressivegrannie said...

May she rest in peace. Her story reminds me of the wife of the former US Ambassador to China, before we cut off relations with the country. I met her during the Nixon era, and she had sage advise, which I have followed to this day...never worry about what other people think, do what you think is right.

10:15 PM  

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