Traverse City Record-Eagle


June 14, 2008

Op-Ed: Peterson paved the way

Attention, women of northern Michigan! A friend of yours passed away last week. You may never have known her, but she had your interests at heart.

Elly Peterson, former Michigan Republican state chairman and co-chair of the Republican National Committee, used the power of her personality, her enormous drive and the best sense of humor I've ever encountered to smooth the path for you.

She was a human comet, always reaching upward, always driving forward, not just for women, but she felt a kinship for them. She was called "Mother" by whites, blacks, reds and yellows because she was the loving, driving force in all of their lives.

She grew up on Main Street in New Berlin, Ill., daughter of a country doctor. Her warmest memories included riding with her father via horse and buggy, making house calls. Then there was Elly as a tot in overalls, playing so vigorously that she was always covered in mud. One day she was making chalk drawings on the sidewalk when a woman asked where Dr. McMillan lived, and Elly pointed to the house, adding proudly that she was his daughter. The woman huffed, "Oh, no, I don't think the doctor would have a daughter as dirty as you!"

On a trip to Washington in 1943, she strolled into a Red Cross headquarters and became so engrossed in the work that Christmas Day found her aboard the Queen Mary, bound for months of duty tending the wounded on the war's bloodiest fronts.

Her political career began as a volunteer in my home county where she and her husband moved after the war. When we met, I, about 20 years her junior, knew zilch about politics, but she banged her infectious message at me as she did to thousands of others over the years, like the Pied Piper, spreading her dream of a strong, winning GOP hospitable to women and minorities.

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