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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Happy birthday, Aunt Lelia!

July 1, 1905, my favorite great-aunt was born. Aunt Lelia never married, so she adopted her great-nieces and -nephews.

Through her, we learned that women not only could do anything, but that we should set our sights far higher than we could dream. A financial whizkid, she earned fairly big bucks, especially considering that her salary was less than 50% of what a man in her position would have taken home.

Ethics, now that got her going. Her boss regularly dipped into the company till, and dear Aunt Lelia regularly made him put it back. Anheuser Busch thanked her for her ethical accounting practices and the way she kept her boss honest by refusing to give her the pension she deserved when she retired.

She would have loved Title IX and women's sports. One of the earliest members of Houston's YWCA, she could do anything she set her mind to. What would she have done had she had access to athletic competitions post-Title IX!

Her generosity knew no bounds. She frequently "loaned" money to nieces, nephews, and us, her adopted grandchildren, each time telling us to keep it under our hats, that she did not want repayment. But not to let anyone else know, because she was doing it just for us. Imagine how surprised we all were to learn after her death that practically everyone in the family had benefited from her secret not-a-loans!

Many times while working on White Rose materials, I find myself wondering what she would have thought about it. She died before we started on this research, so none of us ever had the opportunity to bend her ear, to get her opinion, to see her eyes light up at stories of people who died in the battle for liberty and justice.

Yet I know exactly how she would have responded. She'd have gotten a tear in her eye, one she would not have tried to hide. Followed by a loving pat on the knee. "That's good, honey," she would have said. "Let me know what else you find out."

And a couple of days later, she would have called to chat, having thought about the last conversation, with incisive questions to make me dig some more.

In this sometimes overwhelmingly difficult work, I believe sometimes I most wish for an Aunt Lelia to accompany us on the journey.

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