I write this tribute to former Cherokee Nation Chief Wilma Mankiller with sadness and great humility. All readers know of her passing from this realm on April 6. For those of you who know a little more about her, I offer this commentary. Her biographical data and historical accomplishments you can read elsewhere.
I first came to know the Mankiller when I was a new woman legislator at a time when there were only 12 women in the 149-member combined body of both the Oklahoma House and Senate. I honored her as chief. When I ran for governor of Oklahoma in 1998, she took particular interest and was of great support and mentoring. Since that time, we worked together on national platforms in support of women and were voices for the underrepresented in elections for the highest offices in the country. In each and every encounter she was steady, clear, gentle, firm and giving.
Chief Mankiller’s life contains gifts and learning for us all.
To younger women, those of you 35 and under, Mankiller shows us how to obtain our dreams. She is an example of success much removed from the popular ideals of media stars and “showbiz.” She shows us how to thrive in the worlds of wife, mother and career simultaneously. She is a figure of history that future generations will study, yet she shared a portion of your time on earth. She imparts to all of us an obligation and an opportunity to show our daughters and sons how to live what is most important to us.
To women of middle years into our 50s, Mankiller shows us how to extend our natural inclinations toward community and caring for others to a stage of strangers and less fortunate, to a venue close at home or national, to a population of a few needy individuals or to whole nations of people bound by blood, color, history or bound by nothing more than life itself. She shows us how to keep true to our values and beliefs in times of poverty or plenty and in times of health or great illness. She teaches us quiet courage and clarity of purpose.
To those of us over 55, she shows us elegance, confidence, trust and faith in accepting all of life as blessings and teachings. She shares wisdom and comfort in the passing of our parents and other loved ones. She shows us poignantly to pleasure in the gift of every day and to have no fear of what comes beyond this realm.
To all of us, she shows that behind a great woman is often a great man. Mankiller would want me to be sure you know of the importance of her husband, Charlie Soap, in the joy and success of her living.
When I learned of Mankiller’s pancreatic cancer, I told her how I treasure the many lessons of life and leadership that I have taken from knowing and watching her. I thanked her for continuing to teach me during these last days about “moving on” with joy and dignity and grace.
She told me, as she tells all of us, that the best way to honor her life and work is to help other people ” as she did all her life.
I accept, dear friend and guide.
Boyd was a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1993-1998. In 1998, she was the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor.