What We Learned From Susan Farmer
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Susie did not just attain high office, she did the job, with purpose, toughness, and creativity, just as she’d promised us she would, in TV ads that showed her throwing open the State House doors to let the sunshine in on the doings there. She took on the bloatedness of the office of Secretary of State and the appalling state of the voter rolls. She sent out the first-ever voter handbook and was inundated with return mail marked “deceased’! Dead people were really voting! Shrinking the staff and purging the voter lists were extremely controversial, but she believed they were the right things to do and held firm. She was nicknamed Muffy by the press because of her preppy good looks, but Toughie would have been more apt.
Women sometimes wonder if we need to change something about ourselves when operating in a male-dominated field, but Susie was simply herself, passionate, undaunted, wickedly funny and never without her pearls. She changed Rhode Island for the better without changing a thing about her wonderful self. She felt that she succeeded just as much because of her gender as in spite of it. She marched in parades in high heels, partly because of her belief in proper dress code but also because she knew there were points added for degree of difficulty.
Don’t get me wrong, Susie was clear-eyed and realistic about the bruising that politics can dish out. Strain on the marriage and the children. Smears on the reputation. Financial hardship. Grueling hours. The emotional toll of losing after giving a campaign everything you’ve got. She experienced all of it, and she warned me about the pitfalls too. But she firmly believed the rewards of political pursuit and public service greatly outweigh the sometimes very high costs.
Imagine the privilege of being able to make a difference, she would say. And she relished the excitement and the sheer fun that can be part of a campaign.
In the decades after her service as Secretary of State, Susie continued to encourage, nurture and support women with political aspirations, both individually, and in her work with The Women’s Fund and RIGAP (the Rhode Island Government Appointments Project). Her involvement in RIGAP spurred Governor Chafee to more than double the number of women appointed to state departments, boards and commissions. I am proud and grateful to be part of that statistic.
Susie’s view was that Rhode Island should not be deprived of fifty percent of its talent. Women of Rhode Island, you honor the legacy of Susan Farmer by ensuring that our state is not deprived of yours!
Catherine Terry Taylor was the Republican candidate for Secretary of State in 2010 and currently Director of Elderly Affairs for the state.
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