The Necklace - Mariwyn Heath

A few days ago I wrote about The Necklace - a 1997 art project - when I invited special friends, colleagues and mentors to send a bead and a story for a storyteller's necklace.

Recently I found the box filled with these treasures. The beads were still in their mailers.

Now as I complete the necklace I am writing about the women as well as their beads. This is the first in a series of posts about them.

Mariwyn Heath sent this bead and note from Dayton, Ohio.

"The "bead" is glass from the Mississippi Artists Co-op. I found it on a post-BPW Convention trip to Natchez and Vicksburg. I hope its not too big for you." Love, Mariwyn

How funny!

As if there was anything that could be big enough to represent Mariwyn Heath - -

Mariwyn died in January 2010. This is the tribute I wrote then. Its appropriate to post it again on Memorial Day when we honor those who fought for what they believed was best for our country.


Mariwyn Heath was a legend before I met her but I did not know it. She was a founder of ERAmerica and had devoted herself fully to passing the Equal Rights Amendment for seven years before I came to the League of Women Voters of the US in 1979 as their newbie ERA Campaign Director. Mariwyn took me under her wing. She taught me what I needed to know - even when I did not know I needed to know it - so that I could do the job and keep the League folded effectively into the ERAmerica national and state strategy.

She did that for me - just as she had done it for many before me and continued to do it for many more after that. I still read the newspaper by Mariwyn's rule - read between the lines, and read the back pages to see how those stories connect with what's on the front page. That's how you find out what's really going on.

Mariwyn was a born mentor. She was one of those gifted women who also helped other women find their own talents and strengths. Ask the women nationwide in Business and Professional Women (BPW) who revered her and named awards for her.

Mariwyn was a powerful woman, advising the White House and top State elected officials, but she wore her power lightly in a town that flaunts and covets power. She was not just about business. She was a wife and mother. She was an excellent cook who made time to bring delicious goodies to pot luck gatherings and staff meetings. She had busy hands - wielding knitting needles or stabbing at a needlepoint canvas.

She laughed that no matter how the campaign went she would have accomplished something with her time - sweaters, baby caps for all the pregnant staff , and a collection of needlepoint canvases covered with vibrant color. What a role model.

In 1980 the Democratic National Convention was held in NYC. I was part of an ERAmerica group that went to the convention to lobby for ERA. Mariwyn and I shared a hotel room and in our off-time one evening she taught me how to needlepoint. " Start with something small." she counseled. I bought an eye-glasses case. It was the first of four I made before the campaign ended - one for each of my daughters, one for my mother and one for Jim's mother.

A week after the ERA campaign ended and we had lost Mariwyn and I had lunch together at the Tabbard Inn on N Street. We talked over the campaign and our sense of loss. At one point she said, "You know, Ellouise, I consider you one of my successes."
"You do. Why?"
" Because when you proposed the National Business Council for ERA I thought it was a dumb idea that would never work - - but I did not discourage you."
"Discourage me - you helped me, encouraged me - I never had any idea you did not think it would work."
"And look what happened - - you did it! "

I have always remembered that conversation as a lesson in real leadership and mentoring.

I still have the eyeglasses case we started that evening. A lovely reminder of a very warm and caring woman who was the brains behind a national campaign for equal rights for women. A woman who will be remembered and missed by many.

1 comment:

Sandra Dixon said...

Beautiful story and remembrance on this Memorial Day. And you know I love that bead!