Sen. Olympia Snowe’s grit and perserverance

Here’s a very inspiring article from Maine Senator Olympia Snowe. It appears in today’s New York Times:

When I was growing up, I would never have guessed that I could become a United States senator. Both of my parents — my father a Greek immigrant, my mother the child of immigrants — died before I was 10 years old. My aunt, who worked in a textile mill, and my uncle, who was a barber, took me in, and when my uncle died, my aunt struggled on her own to support me and my five cousins.

I realized early on that I had a choice: allow myself to become overwhelmed by tragedies or learn something from them. And thankfully, as I was surrounded by the twin strengths of family and faith, I was positioned to view any setbacks as temporary, not permanent.

These early experiences with hardship also showed me that, while politics wasn’t high on the menu of choices for women in the 1960s, I wanted to be involved in some form of public service, in improving the lives of others. So I majored in political science at the University of Maine and found summer jobs in government, first working for the Office of Economic Opportunity, then the governor’s office. My ultimate goal was to gain employment in Washington after I graduated.

Fate, however, would intervene in my well-laid plans. I ended up marrying instead and stayed in Maine, where I served on the local Board of Voter Registration and worked for William S. Cohen, then a congressman. My husband was in the Maine House of Representatives. But then, one day while I was at work, I received the devastating news that he had been killed in a car accident returning from the Legislature.

At 26 years old, I was left to build a life for myself.

In the following weeks, while I grieved, friends and political leaders began urging me to run in the special election for my husband’s seat. In the midst of my emotional turmoil I realized I could try once again to make something positive out of a terrible negative. I had a degree in political science and a drive to make a difference in people’s lives. So I ultimately decided to run — and I won.

I have never once actually assembled a résumé, but the rest, as they say, is history. After I served in the Maine House of Representatives and State Senate, my aspiration of securing a job in Washington was fulfilled (though in a slightly different manner than I had originally envisioned). I was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1978 and, in 1994, the United States Senate.

The point is, little could I have known that a 40-year journey in elective office would commence just four years after my graduation, with a horrific event that could have been the end for me, rather than a beginning. I would never have wanted to face a crucial career choice at that perilous personal juncture, but it reminded me once again that it is possible to distill triumph from adversity. Because it’s not a question of whether you will encounter difficulties in life; it’s really a question of how you confront them.


Leave a Reply