By Tootie Smith
Remembrances continue to pour in on the passing of Sen Jackie Winters and rightfully so. Jackie’s influence was wide and loving with a uniquely bipartisan style while holding true to values that would later be defined as “Oregonian.”
She was my political mentor when I first was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 2000. Our offices were located next to each other on the second floor of Lang office building and we became fast friends. It was no accident that the universe chose her for me as I truly believe her spiritual influence has remained inside me to this day. We continued to talk as she always would receive my phone calls.
She taught me many values as a legislator and a woman. How to use budgets to obtain the policy you want. How to stand firm on political beliefs while respecting other’s points of view. How to respect all people regardless of background, race, or belief system. That factions could disagree and be just fine. That love always wins. I trusted her deeply as she was 20 years older and seemed wiser beyond what her years would dictate.
When she occasionally voted contrary to a Republican bill or belief, it would cause me to smile knowing she had deep rooted reasons behind her decision bred from life experience that only the first and only elected African American Republican woman in Oregon could see.
Elected in1998 she seemed to have experiences most legislators didn’t. She served as Ombudsman to Gov. Tom McCall, a position she loved with shared lessons. During that time, she met her beloved Ted, who himself came way of redemption as a convicted felon. They married and he lovingly raised her four sons, dotted on Jackie and supported her many endeavors.
I frequented their home in Salem, dined at Jackie’s Ribs, a restaurant she started with several successful Salem locations while she carefully passed onto us her views on Oregon politics, life and love.
Many stories come to mind. Several times she would rush into my legislative office searching for an elastic hair twisty to tie back her long locks hoping my 11-year old daughter had left one behind.
She took fondly to my daughter knowing how hard it was for members to serve with young children. She shared her own ordeal as an 11-year old living in Vancouver surviving the great Vanport Flood that devastated her family home yet all survived. I believe that single experience helped formed her character.
Enjoying music and dance, she could shake it. While during a
rehearsal for the Dorchester Conference, a small group of Republican women were
slated to sing and dance on stage during the famed “tent show.” As we gathered for rehearsal, I was so
excited at singing to a popular tune and my one chance to become a Tina Turner
impersonator. She looked at me with her
famous frown and shook her head deliberately and said “Tootie, there’s only one
Tina Turner in this room, and, Sista, it aint you!”
We all had a good laugh especially me! I was delegated to backup singer and dancer, received the hook, and Jackie became the star, as was ordained.
Although our backgrounds growing up seemed worlds apart in ethics and thought, I soon learned we shared so many of the same attributes. I, coming from a working-class family farm sheltered in rural Clackamas County and her urbanite upbringing exposed to discrimination and trials that most of us can’t know or understand. We shared support for the voiceless, a fierce independence and work ethic among them.
At the end of the 2001 session, I had used both my priority bills. An unexpected disaster occurred in my district where the Corps of Engineers were holding back water from Detroit Reservoir keeping farmers downstream from irrigating their precious crops.
She generously gave me one of her remaining priority bills that instructed the United States Congress to fix the problem. The bill passed the House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate and time was running short. One afternoon she marched into my office demanding the bill be passed and wondering why I wasn’t “working it”. Excuses didn’t matter and she told me to march over to the Senate Chamber and get it passed. As a freshman legislator, I didn’t know I could do that! So, I did, and the bill passed. With Jackie’s influence I’m sure. Water was released and the Willamette Valley savored the farmer’s crops. Thank you, Jackie!
My memories of lessons and shared battles won and lost with Jackie will remain with me forever as there are too many to mention. I love you dearly as one would a family member or close friend and will always weep for you deep within my heart. Thank you for being allowed to call you friend.