My Parents’ Legacy

Posted by Terri McCormick On June - 1 - 2013

Lincoln McCormickI have been asked, “Why did you choose politics?”

In truth, I didn’t. Politics chose me.

My parents both came from families that served in office and as citizen leaders. We were encouraged to talk about the issues of the day; the threat of nuclear war, the Vietnam War, and heroes coming home from the war and those who didn’t make it home.

Everything from UNICEF and world hunger to the price of gasoline and home-heating costs was shared in conversations at the dinner table; even as children, our own voices, convictions and solutions emerged.

My family was like most others in the 1970s. We coped as a family when my brother and father reached their maximums in their health insurance coverage. We all knew the cost of out-of-pocket payments for physicians and hospital expenses. We just assumed that hard work and getting a good education would improve our lives and prospects for the future.

It was this mindset that carried us forward as a family, generation after generation.

Sobering for me, at a very young age, was the realization that death was a part of life. It was the life-altering situations that I faced as a young girl that would frame my view and value of family. My father underwent a series of operations and illnesses before I finished grade school. Yet I don’t remember a day that my father was without his contagious smile or kind words. His northern Minnesota accent carried a hint of an Irish flare when he would recite his stories and sing the ballads of Ireland—“Sweet Molly O’Grady” or “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” all presented in an off-key voice, brazen with optimism and hope.

He and my mother were older than most parents in those days. Dad grew up in a single-parent household with his mother, a former schoolteacher. Grandpa McCormick made it home from WWI and built a business with his dad but died in the influenza epidemic four years later. Both of my parents were children during the Great Depression and came of age during World War II. My mother spoke of Churchill as her hero. As a young girl, she helped her mother with the farm and her sewing business. History unfolded on the radio for our greatest generation. “The only thing to fear is fear itself,” Mom would recite to us when we paused or hesitated as children.

The reality of the effect of World War II hit home for me as my mother recounted the young men in her high school class who had gone off to war. One such story centered around the impact that the Lindbergh family had in northern Minnesota. Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator, grew up down the road from my grandmother.

It was a few years earlier when the world stood still for the first Atlantic flight of the Spirit of St. Louis. With the stories fresh in the minds of these young high school graduates and friends of my mother’s, there was a clamor to join the fight early and sign up across the Canadian border with the Royal Air Force (RAF). My mother’s voice often caught in her throat as she shared with me that none of them came home.

My mother’s history unfolded around her memories of the Great Depression and World War II on the farm in northern Minnesota. It is with a sweet sense of poetry that the last gift I would receive from my mother was, in a literal sense, what she had given me all of my life.

I was in my third year in the Wisconsin state legislature in 2003 and would return home with a full calendar of meetings with my constituents and groups back in the district. Meetings were scheduled over the course of weekend events—Friday, Saturday and Sunday that often floated into Mondays. This left very little time for my own family. It was at our last breakfast together before my mother was diagnosed with aggressive cancer that she would be insistent on giving me her surprise.

“I have something for you, and I’d like to give it to you soon,” she told me excitedly on the phone.

We met at a Perkins restaurant near her apartment in Kimberly, on the east side of Appleton. I could see that she wasn’t feeling very well; her eyes were dim as she struggled to get up to hug me.

“Mom, are you doing all right? I am sorry that I haven’t called. It has been so difficult to fit everything in these days.”

“Never mind, Terri. I have more clippings for you from the newspapers. My neighbors at the apartment building are clipping them whenever they see your picture in the paper,” she said with a smile. After we finished our lunch and it was time to go, she pulled out a package from her large purse. “I mentioned that I have something for you,” she said with a heartfelt smile.

“Mom, you really don’t need to get me things,” I told her.

I worried about her ability to cover basic costs for rent, food and prescription drugs. Then I opened the package and found a book with a title so significant and meaningful, I cherished its significance—it was a book of quotes from my mother’s hero, Winston Churchill, appropriately titled Courage.

“Carry it with you in your briefcase in the capitol,” she said. “You never know when you will need it to bring light to the dark corners in that place.”

This rich family history and the personal struggles of our family provided the backdrop for my interest in public service. It was Dad who encouraged me, early in my life, to get involved in a political campaign for his friend and neighbor, state assemblyman Rep. Earl McEssy. “We need good people in politics, Terri,” he’d told me, “men and women who care about something bigger than themselves.” And it was my mother who gave me a book about courage to strengthen my convictions while in public office.

Whether through tragedy or hardship, in fighting the Civil War, carving out a frontier, fighting in the Great War, overcoming the Great Depression, or making it home from the war, the tragedies and opportunities of this spirit have shaped me and my family. The joy and laughter of my childhood embraces my soul and provides me strength today. It is this foundation of family and ethnic spirit on which I pin my children’s hopes and dreams.

To continue reading this chapter, get your copy of “What Sex is a Republican in paperback or Kindle edition on Amazon.

About the Author:

Terri McCormick is an author, policy expert, educator, and former state representative to the Wisconsin State Legislature. Today, she offers her expertise in public and government relations through McCormick Dawson CPG Ltd., a trusted consultancy of independent contractors.

Ms. McCormick serves as president and CEO of the company, drawing from more than two decades of professional experience, a strong educational foundation, a host of industry-related publications, and a multitude of accolades, awards and formal recognitions. Holding a Master of Arts in administrative leadership from Marian University, and a Bachelor of Science in political science and public administration from the University of Wisconsin, Ms. McCormick received both degrees with high honors.

“What Sex is a Republican?” is sold on Amazon in both the paperback edition as well as Kindle editionRead reviews on Amazon here.

Terri McCormick honored for excellence in government relations by Cambridge's Who's Who industry experts