With so much being written about with Senator Ted Stevens and his passing, I want to add something sweet that happened several years ago when I met him.
Everyone who knows me knows that I named my eldest child after my high school debate coach. Not only did she pull me from frightened, shy stutterer to a confident speaker, she emphasized to her students the importance of voting and of our right to knowing who our leaders are and speaking up for what we believe in. I thought I would go into politics, but 25 years and nine kids later, I am sometimes on the periphery, dropping in on events and maintaining a friendly relationship with lawmakers. I believe that had I as a stuttering, shy 14 year old not joined debate club or been welcomed in by that great lady that I would probably not have the confidence to get out and do what I do, or encourage my children to see what they are interested in and to pursue it. While none of my children have really cared about politics, as soon as they can, they get registered to vote. I have taken them with me to events to meet lawmakers and say hello even if they had nothing else to say. They have met people that I don’t agree with if only to see us agree on some things and that it was OK to disagree on others.
A few years ago Senator Ted Stevens was coming to the Valley and I decided to take the kids who were home that day out to meet him. There was a picnic fundraiser of some sort that a friend had invited me to at someone’s hangar. It don’t remember where it was, perhaps it was in Palmer or maybe in Wasilla at Lyda Green’s house. Anyway, we went and the hangar was transformed into a pretty place for eating with individual tables and flowers and food servers. Sitting down was rare for me in those days and I remember feeling just happy to be allowed to sit down and eat!
The Senator got up to speak and while he wasn’t very tall, his presence filled the stage. I do not recall what he talked about as I think my kids had ¾ of my attention, but I told my children who he was and to please be quiet, which several weren’t and my baby fussed and I changed his diaper discreetly on my lap so I could catch what I could of his speech.
A little while after Senator Stevens spoke, he was making the rounds to all the tables and he came over to ours. I was very proud to tell him that I had voted for him in every election since I could vote and I introduced him to my family. He actually got all of their names right, even as my three boys deliberately changed places to confuse and confound him, and was happy to pose with us when I asked him to and then one of my children slimed his pant leg. This wasn’t just any slime, it was a 3 inch long yellow strand of rope on his dark pants kind of slime. Senator Stevens didn’t just have any pant legs—it was pretty obvious that those pant legs were designer pant legs. There have been few times in my life that I have genuinely wanted to die and that was one of them.
“Excuse me, Senator, one of the kids. . .” My gag reflex kicked in while I tried to tell him. He placed his hand on my shoulder and asked if I was OK. I finally got it out what one of the kids had done adding how sorry I was, adding that I could get it off discreetly if we kept posing as I kept my back straight and just. . . I got it off and no one was the wiser but the day had caught up to me and I had tears stinging my eyes. “I am so sorry, I shouldn’t have come today.”
Being gracious, Senator Stevens said he had a minute and gave me a short pep talk. He said that he had six kids of his own, that those things happened and that I’d forget about it later. I laughed and asked him if he was aware of Who he was and he promised me that “other things will make this less important!” He asked to hold my baby who had been fussy and he calmed down in his arms. He told me that I needed to keep going to political events because it wasn’t just enough to be a mother to my children, that raising my children with a sense of civic responsibility was important to their understanding of how their world worked. He said that he was responsible to the next generation that he would not live to see grow up.
He handed back my baby to me and he resumed being annoyed with his mom. I extended my hand to shake hands and he made sure that he got my name right and hugged me and whispered that it would get better and easier and that I was doing a great job and to keep it up.
A few weeks later, I received a hand-written thank you note from him and I realized that he had had someone go to the trouble to look me up, and his note was reminding me to keep doing what I was doing with my children and that I was doing a good job. I had it framed but I lost it and the pictures that were taken that were on my home PC in the house fire last year. I wish I had remembered them and grabbed them as I ran out of the house, but there had been no time and all I have is the memory.
Senator Stevens was not a gentleman and a man of honor because of his elevated station in life or because of what he did for Alaska, both which were impressive. How he shaped our state and contributed to it made him one of the most important people ever, but this wasn’t what endeared him to my heart. To me, he was a gentleman because of how he looked out for the feelings of other people who really didn’t matter as much as he did, and not only was he good at face to face contact, he cared enough to make sure that they knew he cared about them.
Earth’s loss is Heaven’s gain.
For information on Senator Stevens' death and the life he lived, please go to the Anchorage Daily News.