by Laura Sillerman

"I have very strong feelings about how you lead your life. You always look ahead, you never look back."
–Ann Richards

The Women’s Voices for Change Gala had been designed months before by its founding mothers as "Black Tie. No Pants."  In other words, dress to kill, but leave the men folk at home.

No wonder Ann Richards was there to host with Liz Smith. Gov. Richards and her friend made sure the night would linger in memory and serve as the cornerstone of everything that will be written on these pages for all the time to come.

How lucky we were to have The Governor of America there, not so much joking, as letting us in on the joke.

"Look at us," she and Liz all but said. "Dames who look great, talk loose and take no prisoners." 

The night started with Ann holding up a Say Hallelujah! sign and exhorting us all to shout Hallelujah! while she and Liz intoned the glories of being post-menopausal. A Reverend of Irreverence, Ann reminded us of all the inconveniences we’d left behind (keep in mind, this was a room where the word "tampon" could be used with gusto) and all the gains we’d made (recollection of her resume and one glance around at the awe and respect on the faces of the very accomplished audience was all the reminder needed). 

For once and for all, we got it: For too long, being of a certain age was viewed as anything but the promised land, while it actually is a land packed with promise.

For our purposes in paying tribute to Ann here, Liz lent us the DVD’s of the two memorial services held in Texas in September. We saw President Clinton saying she made us all bigger, calling her "spontaneous, earthy and hilarious." He told of a lunch Ann organized with Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, himself and some others present. He was forced to wonder, he said, if Billy Crystal and Robin Williams had ever before experienced being the second and third funniest people at the table.

"There didn’t have to be losers in order for the people she loved to win," he said. "She made us all winners."

One of the real winners was Liz Smith, whose friendship with Ann was a singular partnership of equally funny, strong and powerful women. In her memorial address, Smith said Richards was "exhausting," marine-stepping in double time on the streets of Manhattan, with Liz five strides behind, and Richardson calling back, "It’s your problem, Liz, because you eat only from the brown and white food groups!"

Liz and Ann once had a meeting with a representative of the ABC television network to talk about a show called "Two Old Broads Talking." It would be a "call out" show, Ann explained, because, "Hell, Liz and I know everybody and we can just call them up and get them to talk."

The stories are more than the minutes of her life, the number of friends more than enough to fill several states the size of her beloved Texas, the influence as far and wide as anyone could hope for a lifetime. 

Gov. Ann W. Richards took no prisoners, but she was a champ at gathering hearts. As Henry Cisneros said, "She made a difference. Ann Richards made a difference." 

Women’s Voices for Change owes some of our energy, inspiration and warrior spirit to her and we pledge to make whatever differences we can in memory and tribute to women like her and in gratitude for her star turn on the night we were born.

Laura Baudo Sillerman, an author and poet, is president of a New York City-based charitable foundation and is a board member of Women’s Voices for Change.

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  • Jane November 28, 2006 at 11:54 pm

    Hallelujah for people like Ann Richards. We need more of them.