Mary Margaret Oliver

Remarks for Woman of the Year – April 27

I cherish my friendship with Mary Margaret Oliver and deeply respect her leadership.

She was the inspiration for the founding Georgia’s WIN List 17 years ago. She has always been a and supporter of our mission to change the face of power in Georgia by electing more women to sit at the power tables where decisions are made. We are proud to call her a WIN List endorsed woman. She is a generous donor and we have been honored to have her  speak several times over the years.

I speak for all of us when I say we appreciate those qualities in her which lead to the honor this evening:

Mary Margaret has a brilliant mind and a rapier sharp sense of humor.

Mary Margaret has a grand sense of adventure – back in the day we whizzed down ski slopes together and even now, she is always up for a fun trip! She feeds her intellectual curiosity by reading widely, staying well informed and checking out the latest plays, movies and cultural offerings.

Mary Margaret is deeply devoted to public service and making the world – especially DeKalb County and the State of Georgia — a better place.

Mary Margaret has a deep faith, which guides her strong sense of what is right and good. She is doggedly determined to pursue the right and good course even when the road to that objective has many potholes, roadblocks and occasional detours.

Mary Margaret is compassionate and generous — attributes honed during her early career as a Legal Aid attorney when she was exposed to the problems of those less fortunate whose opportunities were hampered by physical or mental disabilities. She saw a side of life very different from her comfortable childhood and this inspired both her public service career and her practice of accepting difficult pro bono cases throughout her career.

Mary Margaret is a courageous advocate for her causes, particularly reproductive freedom, women’s issues, child protection and the reduction of gun violence, even when her advocacy exposes her to hate mail or threats.

Most of all, those of us privileged to know her as a friend enjoy the sheer intellectual exercise of being in her company because she challenges us to think harder when we look at issues and dig deeply to consider all points of view.  After all, to her mind, you must figure out what the other side is thinking if you hope to overcome their objections. She also inspires us to follow her bold example and become more forceful advocates for those things we deeply care about.

One quality which makes Mary Margaret unique in Metro Atlanta politics, where almost everybody is FROM somewhere else, is her strong sense of place. She lives in and represents the area where she was born and where the older generation of residents fondly remember her parents and particularly the soda fountain at her late father’s pharmacy a stones throw from the Emory campus. In fact, some of the older generation still remember Mary Margaret’s high school jobs as soda jerk, cash register clerk or delivery girl – back in the days when drug stores had prescription home delivery.

The residents of her district DEMAND yard signs every political season and they stop Mary Margaret at restaurants, the movie line and anywhere else she happens to be to ask her about legislation or to share their opinion about pressing issues. She always takes time for these encounters and has a remarkable recall for details of their lives and yes, whether they are on the yard sign list!

Her sense of place and a district of constituents who always vote overwhelmingly for her re-election gives Mary Margaret a strong foundation for being on the cutting edge of progressive policy. Quite simply, she is able to sponsor a controversial issue like her proposed assault weapon ban when others who might agree with her do not have the political will to speak out.  Luckily for us – Mary Margaret is not just whip smart, but also a skillful speaker and a determined debater who gives no ground under tough questions. Best of all, when the situation requires, she is a polished parliamentarian and legislative craftsman who knows how to disarm a harmful bill behind conference committee doors so skillfully the sponsors don’t know what has happened until weeks or months after Sine Die.

During her 25 years in the General Assembly, she is the only woman to have chaired the all-powerful Judiciary Committee in both the House and Senate – a truly remarkable achievement, which none of the men have matched. Many of us long for the day when Democrats once again control the legislature and Mary Margaret returns to a committee chairmanship.

Her deep knowledge of state laws particularly on matters of family law, child protection and judicial reforms, makes her respected on both sides of the aisle. Journalists know she is accessible and they can always get an informed opinion or pithy quote from her.  It is no accident Republican colleagues call upon her for help about how to “fix” legislative messes.  Her knowledge is powerful indeed!!

Mary Margaret is a champion for ALL Georgia children in the legislature and the public policy arena. Indeed, she is one of our state’s best known and most respected child advocates. Her legislative accomplishments are many, but chief among them are creation of the Georgia Child Care Council, the Georgia Child Fatality Review Panel and Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice. In her early years as a legislator, she authored the first bill successfully passed by the women’s caucus—a measure which insured a transparent process which included citizen participation in the allocation of federal child care funds.

When you are fortunate enough to be her friend, Mary Margaret becomes a champion for your children — asking about them, offering advice when sought, writing recommendation letters, celebrating graduations and yes, driving a long distance to weddings. She is an encouraging mentor to other young people who come into her path as interns at the Captiol or as students at Emory’s Barton Child Law and Policy Clinic. She has been a helpful mentor to many a freshman or woman legislator.

Tonight’s honor adds to a long list of others Mary Margaret has received during her distinguished career.  While she’s a non-violent person, she’d shoot me if I stood here and listed them all. But, suffice it to say all her honors, like this one tonight, are well-deserved.

We are all blessed by knowing Mary Margaret Oliver and calling her a friend. Thank You Mary Margaret for all you have done and continue to do.