Senator Forehand’s Remarks at 2015 NCCWSL Women of Distinction Ceremony

Maryland State Senator Jennie Forehand (ret.)  – Remarks at National Conference for College Women Student Leaders,  28 May 2015

AAUW Maryland Honored Retired Senator Jennie Forehand at NCCWSL Women of Distinction Ceremony on May 28, 2015. Senator Jennie Forehand who retired at the end of last year from the  Maryland State Senate is AAUW Maryland’s Woman of Distinction. Senator Forehand  has been a strong advocate and friend of AAUW causes. Maryland AAUW successfully raised $20,000 so that it could continue its support for the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL) Women of Distinction Ceremony.

Senator’s Forehand’s remarks at the Ceremony:

My friends in AAUW Maryland, thank you for this high honor.

How wonderful to see so many of you bright, eager young women here on this special night. You are leaders already—and on your way to changing the world for the better. We’re counting on you!

One of the greatest rewards of my long career in public service is having young people listen to me. So here are a few things I’ve learned from my life story. I hope they help you, too.

Seize every opportunity. Professor Al Lowenstein, my beloved mentor at the University of North Carolina in the 1950s, one day invited me to attend the college president’s upcoming luncheon for Eleanor Roosevelt, if I would help serve the meal. Would I! Unfortunately, at the event, the other student waiter accidentally spilled soup on the great lady’s sleeve. Not missing a beat, she looked up at my mortified friend and said gently, “Don’t be upset, my dear. I brought a new dress just for this occasion, but I didn’t have time to change. I’ll be right back.”

Along with the thrill of speaking with Mrs. Roosevelt later, I took away a life lesson: Be gracious. It costs nothing and such good can come from it.

Engage your community. I started small. My neighbor, running for mayor, asked me to host a candidate coffee for him. I had to ask, “What’s a coffee?” but I said yes. He won. Within a week of the election, he named me to a city committee. Before I knew it I was serving on many other community boards and had contacts all over the county—experts I could later call upon.  For example, early in my Annapolis years, my mother faced a stay in a psychiatric hospital after my father died. I knew people I could ask, “What would you do if you were in my shoes?” That personal trial also helped me lead on legislation to improve mental health services in Maryland.

So, find an issue that makes you want to learn more. Go to the meetings. Pull leaders aside, ask questions, get invested and show it. Use what you learn.

Trust your feelings. I first ran for the Maryland Legislature in 1974 because at a candidate forum one incumbent struck me as so dismissive, lazy, and uncaring, he disgusted and embarrassed me. Someone had to replace him. Anyone could do better. Why, I could! So I went for it. I lost. But I learned a lot and met a lot of people. Four years later I ran again and won. That was the start of my 36-year legislative career.

So, if you get mad about something, or excited about something, do something about it!

Find a way around that high wall. During my first week as a delegate in 1979, I showed up at my assigned committee room before anyone else. It reeked of tobacco smoke—a smell repugnant to me because my father had died from lung cancer and emphysema. He had never smoked, but his co-workers had. As a freshman, especially a woman, I knew I could expect to be unheard, if not ignored. So I just quickly hid all the ashtrays! The chairman later accosted me, “Did you take those ashtrays?” “No,” I replied innocently. Well, I hadn’t taken them. They were right there under the radiators! That was the start down a long road to laws banning smoking in all public places. Today Maryland smokes less and is one of the healthiest states.

Don’t let a barrier stop you. Find another way.