Barack Obama on Stephanie Tubbs Jones

Sitting alongside both Clintons, the Democratic nominee took time out from the campaign to honor a friend

Published August 31, 2008 3:16PM (EDT)

I was jetlagged in New York late Saturday night, and I turned on CSPAN to find a rebroadcast of the memorial for Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, the Ohio congresswoman who died suddenly on Aug. 20. I couldn't turn it off. Sitting side by side were Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, whispering and laughing and commiserating, and it was hard not to think Tubbs Jones played a role in bringing the Democratic party together in Denver this week.

Obama's remarks were particularly moving, at least partly because Tubbs Jones was Clinton's most stalwart supporter, although she endorsed Obama after the primary season ended. I asked Obama spokesman Bill Burton for a copy of his speech, and he sent it this morning. It's a great read, but if you have a chance to watch the memorial, don't miss it.

To all the elected officials who are present to former President Clinton, my colleagues in the Senate, especially Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, to Barbara and most of all to Mervyn.

I am here today with Michelle to pay tribute to an extraordinary American, a devoted public servant, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a dear friend to so many here in Cleveland, so many in Ohio, and so many all across America.

Today, we honor not just Stephanie’s intelligence, and her grace, her spirit, and her compassion – but how she used those gifts to help others.

For Stephanie, it wasn’t enough to rise up from modest circumstances and break so many barriers herself – she had to reach back and pull others through the doors she opened and along the trails that she blazed.

For Stephanie, it wasn’t enough just to study law and practice law – she spent her life working to shape our laws to honor our best instincts and reflect all of our voices.

If this work was hard or overwhelming – if she ever felt any loneliness in so often being the first – you never would’ve known it, because Stephanie was not a complainer. She always had that big smile, even when times were tough. Self-pity was never an option as far as Stephanie was concerned.

She just set her sights and steeled her will to the task at hand. And when it came to her life’s work – the work of fighting for justice and opportunity, the work of tending to the overlooked places and being a friend to those who walked alone – she was relentless.

As it's already been noted, she was a good friend. During this most recent contest, Stephanie and I started off on different sides and she… we would see each other and she just said to me, "This is what it means to be a friend for me." And all I could say is "I understand." And that is a testimony to her and the kind of person she was.

And what struck me most about Stephanie was how, even after a decade in Congress, she was so utterly unaffected by the ways of Washington. She was still a home girl. Stephanie couldn't put on airs if she tried. Whether she was dealing with an intern or an ambassador, she'd have the same radiant warmth, that same good-natured ribbing, she'd be hugging people, but probably the protocol said you shouldn't hug, that same call-it-like-she-saw-it honesty.

I was interested in what Senator Clinton mentioned about her occasionally having suggestions. You know she… even after… after the election was over, we had a chance to meet while I was campaigning here. It was a wonderful meeting, we were going to talk about the campaign going forward she pulled out a, I think a little list, and she had some things that she thought might be helpful to my election effort. And no one ever felt like a stranger around Stephanie.

And even as she endured so many losses in her own life, she never lost her focus on helping others – her heart was big enough, and strong enough, and resilient enough to hold her own pain and take on and help ease somebody else’s load. She was the embodiment of the generosity that comes with grace – and the fearlessness that comes from knowing what really matters.

And now that she’s left us, we’ve all got to pick up some slack. We’ve all got some unfinished business to attend to. The business of shaking things up, and asking hard questions, and insisting on the hard truths. The business of embracing those who struggle and making their struggles our own. The business of refusing to settle for anything less than what’s right and what’s fair and what’s just.

Those were the gifts that Stephanie gave us. That was the love with which she graced us – love for her son and for her family and friends, love for her native Cleveland, and love for her native state and love for this great country that she served. And for that, we are all so grateful. We know that the Lord has embraced her with his everlasting love.

By Joan Walsh

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2008 Elections