How my mother helped mentor the first female president of Loyola University New Orleans
My mother, Corinne Claiborne Boggs, was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 18 years, as well as the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See for four years. One day, late in her legislative career, she received a letter from a precocious 16-year-old woman, Tania, who was already in her first year of college. “Dear Congresswoman,” Tania had written, “I would like to be you when I grow up. Could I please meet you?” And so began a long and loving relationship, one filled with laughter and learning.
A few years later, Tania joined my mother’s staff as a summer intern. And as much as my mother enjoyed the company and the intellect of all of the interns over the years, none of the others called her “mawmaw,” as Tania did. That term of affection came of course from my mother’s grandchildren and was an appropriate form of address—because Tania was the age of my mother’s youngest grandchild.
“Dear Congresswoman,” Tania had written, “I would like to be you when I grow up.
When my sister grew sick and it became clear that she was dying, my mother decided not to run for what would have been her 10th term in Congress. Tulane University gave her a position on campus. Still a student at Tulane, Tania hightailed it to the office of the former congresswoman and was immediately hired. As Tania put it, my mother “hired a teenager in the place of an entire congressional staff.”
What Tania, a wide-eyed student, saw in my mother was a woman constantly working to help others, continuing to use her power for good—a lesson Tania absorbed brilliantly. And while Tania learned from her mentor, my mother also learned from her. That is what made the relationship so special to each of them. Oh sure, my mother could treat Tania like a kid—when they went to Mass together, which they did often, my mother would hand Tania $1 to put in the collection basket. But Tania was also an equal, someone with the brainpower to tease out the essence of a problem, someone with the voice to share a song in harmony and, especially, someone with the sense of humor to get the joke.
Tania would sometimes tell a story of visiting my mother when she was ambassador to the Vatican. The security detail loved dashing through the streets, sirens wailing, waving signs called lollipops out the windows to ward off defenseless pedestrians. When an elderly woman gave them a dirty look, my mother told Tania, “Look either very important or very ill.”
Their personal relationship deepened over the years, and when Tania fell in love she brought her “beau,” as my mother would say, to Washington, D.C., to get the imprimatur of my mother. Once that permission was duly delivered, the nuptials could proceed.
Your personal relationships and your public policy will reflect basic respect for the dignity of everyone you encounter.
In writing about the many long late-night conversations she had with my mother, Tania described how “Lindy carefully tutored me about women in politics, about power and conscience, about the purpose of a life’s career. We spent lots of time debating the models of women in power. Are women inherently more virtuous? Must women always exercise power through sweetness and gentle tact, or should they be allowed to act more like powerful men?”
I would argue that there is a time and place for both. (And I would probably put a finger on the “yes” side of the scale on the virtuous question.) But here is what I know my mother taught Tania best—because she taught it to all of us through her life, sometimes in words, but always in actions: If you truly believe the words we have recited from our very early days—that every human is made in the image and likeness of God—then you cannot fail. Your personal relationships and your public policy will reflect basic respect for the dignity of everyone you encounter, in whatever situation.
My mother passed away in 2013, so she could not be physically present on Nov. 16, 2018, when Tania Tetlow was inaugurated in The Holy Name of Jesus Church as the 17th president of Loyola University, New Orleans.
Tania is the first woman and the first layperson to lead the university since it was founded by the Jesuits in 1912. She told the Loyola New Orleans community: “I want to be someone who is very present to this community, to students, to faculty and to staff. I want to make sure that everyone understands that we are in this together, arm in arm.”
And you can be sure that as she goes down this challenging path, my mother’s arm will be around her.