Ferraro, a photo, and a legacy

Tribute
By MARY ANN SORRENTINO  |  March 30, 2011

TJI_G._Ferraro_main
Geraldine Ferraro's photograph stands proudly in a silver frame, inscribed to my daughter with the words, "You are my hero." Ferraro was referring to the roughing up of my then-14-year-old child by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, which tried to deny her the sacrament of confirmation based on my — not her — involvement in the pro-choice movement.

At a previous Mondale-Ferraro rally, I'd won the first woman vice presidential candidate's attention carrying a placard that read, "Catholic Bishops Don't Have Babies, Women Do!" And our bond endured.

I spoke with her last during the waning days of her second US Senate race in 1998. She was calling to ask if I could spare another contribution. Since my small checks were insignificant in a campaign of that magnitude, I realized how desperately she was fighting to win. That was her style — personal, open, tough, persistent, and very, very warm if she loved you.

I can relate. Geraldine Ferraro came from a traditional Italian-American Catholic family, as did I. She loved her parents and respected their traditions. She also followed the immigrant mandate to grow and prosper, thus her strong liberal views on women's rights and other counter-macho measures.

She rose through New York's political ranks from teacher, to attorney, to prosecutor and congresswoman until Walter Mondale asked her to join him on the Democratic ticket challenging incumbent Ronald Reagan. Despite a hard-fought effort and Geraldine's amazing style and terrific campaign skills, they lost by 18 points. Women did not abandon Reagan for Ferraro (or Mondale) as hoped, thus proving the axiom that feminists often face a greater enemy in their own ranks.

In a recent interview, Ferraro — toward the end a decade-long battle against the cancer that killed her — said she had no regrets and was happy. Her career choices and her family life gave her all she needed. We all hope that is true. God knows she deserved some reward for all she gave to us.

Much as I admire Elizabeth Taylor's professional and charitable work and mourn her recent passing, I find it hard to accept the days of media coverage given to her life while Geraldine Ferraro barely gets a cameo on the evening news and, within hours, seems forgotten.

Ferraro's groundbreaking work on behalf of a gender that is more than half of the US population is at least as important as Taylor's movie work and AIDS advocacy.

So, Gerry, here's to you and your memory. May it live on in our progeny, who ought to know that you cracked the glass ceiling so that they might come soaring through in your wake.

RIP, my sister, and, again, thanks.

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