Originally posted on May 27, 2020.
Over the last couple of weeks or so, amidst the din and clatter of life during a pandemic, I’ve heard from two people who reminded me of who we are and who we might want to be. The first was my long-time friend, and former Supreme Court Judge Ann Covington and the second is Clara Dykhouse, a rising sixth grader who is just beginning to write her own story.
I had reached out to both of them, hoping that each would agree to be part of a video that is being created to celebrate the freedoms enumerated in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The video is one of a series for Boone County’s Bicentennial and will include short interviews of people from throughout Boone County about what one or more of those specific freedoms mean to them.
Ann (ok, so, it’s still difficult for me to call her that. Sometimes I still slip and call her “Judge,” and she gives me one of those looks) and I spoke by phone about whether she would be one of the contributors to the video. In her self-effacing way, she offered that she wasn’t the one to be filmed but that Lyrissa Lidsky, the Dean of the MU School of Law, would be perfect, in part because Dean Lidsky is a First Amendment scholar. In the course of our conversation, however, as I continued to try to persuade Ann to be part of the video, speaking to the freedom to petition the government, she told me the story that will remain with me forever.
During the time she was a member of the Missouri Supreme Court, her daughter Elizabeth was in law school. This meant that Elizabeth’s daughter Ashley was often with Ann in the late afternoons and evenings, as Elizabeth studied and prepared for the next day’s classes. One of Ann’s colleagues on the court, although knowing that Ann would probably be preparing dinner for her granddaughter, nonetheless often called around that time of day to talk about court- and case-related issues.
One evening, as she prepared dinner, the phone again rang and, instead of answering it herself, she asked Ashley to answer. Ashley picked up the phone and answered, “Covington residence, may I help you?” as she had been taught to do. She listened to the speaker and then reported to her grandmother that “some man wants to talk to you.” Ann asked if the man had identified himself but he had not. When she answered the phone, it was, in fact, the judge, as she had expected.
After the call was complete, she returned to the kitchen and continued to prepare dinner. Ashley then asked, “Who was that man?” Ann told her it was one of the other judges on the court. Without missing a beat, Ashley responded, “He can’t be a judge. He's not a woman.”
Clara has her own connection to Ann Covington, having interviewed her for school and actually having attended an argument at the Missouri Supreme Court to understand more fully what it must have been like for Ann to sit on and, for a time, fulfill the duties of the Chief Justice of that Court. Clara’s interest in women’s leadership roles is not limited to the courts but has extended into political fields as well.
As she and I talked about her participation in the video project, she asked if my former colleague on the County Commission, Karen Miller, and I were the first women to serve in that role here in Boone County. I told her that, although Karen had served the longest of any commissioner in Boone County’s history, she was not the first. Among the women who preceded Karen on the County Commission was one of my grade school teachers—Billie Tritschler, who was also Boone County’s Presiding Commissioner!! Commissioner Tritschler was, for me, a role model and teacher for decades and, as I told Clara, she and other women, including Patsy Ponder Dalton, Carolyn Lathrop Webster, Karen Miller, Norma Robb, Kay Roberts, and Linda Vogt, plowed the road for those who would follow in their footsteps.
Clara isn’t waiting until adulthood, like Karen, Ann and I did when we decided to seek leadership roles. In Fifth Grade, Clara successfully ran for office and, in her leadership role in her school convinced school leadership to hold its first ever school dance. When COVID-19 caused the dance to be cancelled, Clara ensured that for next year, her good work would not simply fade away. She again lobbied the school leadership on behalf of those following in HER footsteps. School leadership has announced that they are “more likely to do a dance next school year too since the student council did such a good job advocating, planning, and preparing for this dance.”
Clara, like Ann’s granddaughter Ashley, has known from an early age, that women can be judges, commissioners, lawyers, doctors, educators, engineers, farmers, social workers, veterinarians—in short, any career path they choose. She has been told by her parents and has seen first-hand that women have the capacity for leadership. And, importantly, she has not been told otherwise.
Like Clara and Ashley, I’ve been fortunate too. I’ve seen women in Boone County, like Karen Miller, Billie Tritschler, Vicky Riback Wilson, Mrs. McCaskill (yes, Claire’s mom!), Ann Covington, Ellen Roper, Nanette Laughrey, Muriel Battle, Liz Schmidt, my Mom, and more, all of whom wear and wore leadership well and all of whom fought for their right—and ultimately mine, Clara’s and Ashley’s—to pursue dreams.
So, for all the Clara’s and Ashley’s and for every single young person in Boone County, let’s focus on creating and maintaining a culture of “yes, you can.” Let’s support them in their dreams and provide the tools they need so that their gender, their ethnicity, their sexual orientation, the color of their skin, the language they speak, in short anything other than their fundamental character, is never a barrier to reaching those dreams. This is who we want to be.