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Public Statements

Honoring the Life of Mildred McWilliams Jeffrey

Location: Washington DC


Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, today I rise to honor the life of a very dear friend who passed away on March 24 of this year. Millie Jeffrey is an icon in the State of Michigan and in our country for civil rights, women's rights, and worker's rights. Her life has epitomized the principles by which we all strive to live our lives-justice, equality, and compassion.

Although small in stature, Millie has been a giant among all of us who have known her. Words cannot express the depth of affection and respect in which Millie is held, nor can words quantify the lives that she has touched.

Mildred McWilliams Jeffrey, social justice activist, retired UAW Director of the Consumer Affairs Department and a Governor Emerita of Wayne State University, died peacefully surrounded by her family early this morning in the Metro Detroit area. She was 93. In 2000, President William Clinton awarded here the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award bestowed by the United States government.

In seeking world peace by ensuring equality for all, Millie spent a lifetime working on labor, civil rights, education, health care, youth employment, and recreation issues. She brought inspiration and humor to the many people she touched-and did so with optimism and undaunted spirit.

Millie's list of accomplishments and awards is long but what she is most remembered for is her zest for organizing. She mentored legions of women and men in the labor, civil rights, women's rights, and peace movements. As President Clinton noted: "Her impact will be felt for generations, and her example never forgotten."

Born in Alton, IA, on December 29, 1910, Millie was the oldest of seven children. She graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1932 with a bachelor's degree in psychology and received a master's degree in social economy and social research in 1934 from Bryn Mawr College. In graduate school, she realized that to improve the lives of working women and men she would have to change the system. In the 1930s, that meant joining the labor movement.

Millie became an organizer for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America in Philadelphia and then Educational Director of the Pennsylvania Joint Board of Shirt Workers. In 1936, she married fellow Amalgamated organizer Homer Newman Jeffrey, and they traveled throughout the South and East organizing textile workers. During World War II, the Jeffreys worked in Washington, DC, as consultants to the War Labor Board, where they became close friends with Walter, Victor, and Roy Reuther.

Mildred and Newman Jeffrey moved to Detroit in 1944 when victor Reuther offered Millie a job as director of the newly formed UAW Women's Bureau. Millie's commitment to equal rights fueled here career at the UAW. She organized the first UAW women's conference in response to the massive postwar layoffs of women production workers replaced by returning veterans. From 1949 until 1954, Millie ran the union's radio station. She moved on to direct the Community Relations Departments. She was director of the Consumer Affairs Department from 1968 until her retirement in 1976.

Millie joined the NAACP in the 1940s and marched in the South with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s. Former executive secretary of the Detroit Branch of the NAACP, Arthur Johnson, said that "in the civil rights movement, she knew how to fight without being disagreeable."

Mildred Jeffrey also was very active in the Democratic Party, preferring to work behind the scenes organizing, canvassing, consulting, and fundraising. She was the consummate strategist. Millie provided savvy advice to Democratic officeholders and presidents from JFK to Bill Clinton. Senator EDWARD KENNEDY observed, "whether it was a worker in a plant, or whether it was a Congressman or Senator or President, Millie inspired people."

As a founding member and chair of the National Women's Political Caucus, Millie supported female candidates for public office. Twenty years ago she led the effort to nominate Geraldine Ferraro as Walter Mondale's running mate. Most recently, Millie delighted in being represented by Michigan women she supported, Governor Jennifer Granholm, and myself. Millie is the "political godmother" for many of us, and we are extremely grateful for her love and support. Millie was one of the most important mentors in my life and I will always be very, very grateful to her.

Millie ran for public office in 1974 and was elected by the people of the State of Michigan to the Wayne State University Board of Governors, an office she held for 16 years-1974-1990. She was so proud of her role in supporting this wonderful university. She served three terms as board chair. Millie loved Wayne State University and was a long-time resident on campus. She never tired of showing visitors around her "neighborhood"-the Adamany Undergraduate Library, the Hilberry Theatre, and the Walter P. Reuther Library. Millie thrived in the academic environment enriched by Wayne State University students.

Her friendships extended worldwide across all ages and nationalities. Whether discussing math with teenagers in Wayne State's Math Corps, or strategizing at the UN Conference on Women about the plight of sweatshop workers, Millie's capacity for connecting with people was unmatched.

Millie's capacity for connecting with people was unmatched. As one who traveled with her to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, it was amazing to see people from all over the world, hearing we were from Michigan, asking if we knew Millie Jeffrey and if we could tell them where she was; or that their grandmother, their aunt, suggested they meet Millie Jeffrey.

I often said the way to world peace was to let Millie loose; sooner or later, we would all know Millie Jeffrey and come to understand each other.

Millie was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame and was an original board member of the Michigan Women's Foundation. She served in various leadership roles in a wide variety of national and State organizations such as the Michigan Women's Political Caucus, the Coalition for Labor Union Women, Americans for Democratic Action, National Abortion Rights Action League, Voters for Choice, EMILY's List, and the American Civil Liberties Union. She served on the peer review board of Blue Cross and was an active member of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Detroit.

She was also an adoring mother of a son and a daughter and adoring grandmother who developed and nourished creativity and curiosity in her two grandchildren who she loved dearly, Erica Jeffrey and Thomas Jeffrey. She encouraged Erica's love of ballet. She urged Thomas to travel to learn about the world and was so proud of his AmeriCorps Service.

All of these lists of awards, duties, responsibilities, and committees do not say what Millie is all about: Millie Jeffrey was a one-of-a-kind woman of great passion, of great commitment, of great interest in knowing about each one of us and what we were doing and what we cared and how she could help.

Yesterday, 250 people came to Washington, DC, from all over the country to remember Millie and to share how Millie had touched their lives. Millie's life was celebrated and honored by her family and friends through photos, speech and song. Many of her friends gave heartwarming accounts on how she helped them as well as our country. As the memorial service concluded, one thing became very clear. Millie is no longer with us, but she will be with us forever because her spirit will continue in all of us.

I thank my colleagues for the support of this resolution.

I yield the floor.

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