The Incredible Leadership of Phyllis Schlafly

With the death of Phyllis Schlafly, America has lost an authentic heroine.

Schlafly was an American patriot, a true renaissance woman, an exceptional leader, and a wonderful human being.

At the age of 92, Phyllis was one day from releasing her latest book. While she wrote many, no one can forget the one that started it all: “A Choice Not an Echo.” That little book issued in paperback helped to spur the modern conservative movement.

I have one of those original books and it helped me to know what I believed and why I believed it. And for younger conservatives who are seeking the truth, that little book was re-released as a 50th anniversary addition, updated and expanded.

Schlafly’s Political Leadership

Phyllis will be remembered by most Americans as the lady who defeated the so-called “Equal Rights Amendment.” And she did, though she would be the first to tell you that it was the women across America, roused and incensed by learning the truth of how this amendment would demean their status and roles in the name of equality who took to the hallways of state capitols to stop ratification of this amendment to the United States Constitution.

(Photo: Everett Collection/Newscom)

Her leadership, however, was historic. She organized women (and more than a few men as well) under the banner of Eagle Forum to take their facts, their unique brand of lobbying, their winning smiles, and their messages of unintended consequences to scores of state legislators.

Phyllis was ever present at the state capitols but also on the television programs where her debating style, facts, and a smile, disarmed many a host and frustrated the most fervent of her opponents. She never resorted to ad hominem attacks as her opponents often did because she had the truth and the facts on her side.

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But, Phyllis Schlafly was a leader on so many other fronts that matter today. She loved the U.S. Constitution and believed it to be inspired. One of her greatest joys was being appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. I worked for President Reagan as his deputy for presidential appointments at the time and I don’t really know who was happier about this appointment: President Reagan for being able to appoint Phyllis or Phyllis for receiving this appointment from President Reagan.

She, of course, served with distinction alongside former Chief Justice Warren Burger in bringing the Constitution and its limits on federal government to millions of Americans.

Phyllis and Fred raised six children, but there are literally thousands of us around the country who feel a kinship to this extraordinary woman.

National defense, anti-communism, American leadership, freedom around the world, limited government, parental choice in education, the strength of the traditional family, life, national security, the strategic defense initiative, national sovereignty, immigration reform–well, this is just a short list of the many major policy areas on which Phyllis spoke through her books, her Phyllis Schlafly Report, her conferences, and her public appearances.  She was brilliant and a great communicator, a woman well-grounded in moral truths.

It is also an interesting note that she went to law school after raising her family, though she would have been admitted to Harvard Law after graduating from college. Phyllis certainly did not need a law degree, but found that liberals like Sen. Birch Bayh of Indiana sought to disdain her legal knowledge and debating skills because she did not have one. So she just decided to remove that little argument by getting that law degree and so she did, graduating near the top of her Washington University Law School class.

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Schlafly’s Legacy in the Conservative Movement

And Phyllis was a wonderful mentor to many.  I first met her at a conference shortly after I came to Washington, D.C. as a 20-something young conservative.  It was a meeting of the top conservative leaders in the country and I was the junior staff person giving out the registration materials.  Bill Rusher from National Review, Tom Winter and Allen Ryskind from Human Events, Stan Evans and Congressman John Ashbrook of the American Conservative Union, Frank Donatelli and Ron Docksai of the Young Americans for Freedom, Morton Blackwell, and the few other top  leaders were there. When Phyllis Schlafly approached, I stood up and said “hello, Mrs. Schlafly” to which she replied, I’m Phyllis, tell me your name.

We became friends and allies from that day forward.

She hosted me in her home on one of my earliest trips as political director of the American Conservative Union on whose board she served.  We had a wonderful visit and I benefitted from her wisdom on the political and policy battles of the day. Eleven o’clock approached and she said that she always watched the news … it was the time that she did her 100 sit-ups every day. Phyllis was a disciplined woman, too.

Phyllis Schlafly at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference. (Photo: Jeff Malet Photography)

Phyllis and Fred raised six children, but there are literally thousands of us around the country who feel a kinship to this extraordinary woman.

During my time as a member of the senior management at The Heritage Foundation, there have been numerous occasions for us to work together and she has always been one of Heritage’s treasured allies. Her student conferences were often held in our auditorium and Heritage staff would often slip in the back of the auditorium when Phyllis was about to speak. You could not be part of the conservative movement and not know of the enormous contribution Phyllis Schlafly has made to assure that we and future generations know the blessings of liberty and the battle we must wage to keep them.

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Phyllis showed us how to live, to learn, to stand for our principles and values. She lived as the prophet Micah wrote that the Lord requires of us: to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. We have been blessed with her friendship, her leadership, and her love. Her Lord has welcomed her home with the words, Well done, Good and faithful servant. Phyllis Schlafly, we will miss you.

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