Gail Collins paid tribute to Gloria Steinem, who turns 80 today, in this past Sunday's New York Times. Reading her celebration of Ms. Steinem's life brought on a flood of memories. What follows is my own tribute to this very great person.
Gloria Steinem and I have been friends since 1969. The origins of that friendship began in a phone booth outside the U.S. Senate's Caucus Room in the Russell Building on Capitol Hill. Someone had given me Ms. Steinem's number in New York and I called to introduce myself, to tell her I had worked for Bobby Kennedy and that I wanted to know her. She asked, "Do you ever came to Manhattan?" I said I did, and she said the next time I came, she would be happy to meet me. We met over dinner that first time, followed by many other dinners and luncheons in the city and sometimes in Washington.
As the press secretary to Senator Charles Goodell of New York, it was in my interest to know Gloria, who was then writing for New York Magazine, and, to a lesser extent, for her to know me.
Sometimes in the city we dined alone, but more often, we were joined by Richard Reeves, the chief political correspondent of The New York Times, Cynthia Wainwright of the famous family by that name, and Lynn Sherr and Jurate Kazickas of the Associated Press (AP).
On one occasion, as a reporter, Gloria was with the senator and me in Albany, New York's state capital, as was Reeves. The why of it I don't remember -- it was some political purpose -- but what I do remember is this: At our hotel before dinner, Gloria, Dick and I were walking down a staircase with a long and lovely banister, which I impetuously decided to slide down. What I didn't know is the marble floor below had been waxed that morning, and when I came off the banister, my feet came out from under me and I hit the floor hard... as in hard on my butt.
Over the next several days my bottom hurt and since I was back home in McLean, Virginia, I decided to see a doctor. After my examination, the doctor told me the following, "Mr. Mitrovich, you have sprained your ass." I had no clue such a thing was possible, that you could actually sprain your "ass." (In case you don't know, the curative is time, warm baths and Epson salt.)
Advancing a trip west for Senator Goodell, I had arranged a series of speeches, including a major address before the Los Angeles County Bar Association's annual dinner, and a fundraiser at the Bistro in Beverly Hills (a fundraiser co-chaired by Marlo Thomas, Andy Williams, Norman Lear and Tom Bradley), plus I persuaded James Pike, the famous Episcopal Bishop of San Francisco, to invite the senator to deliver the lay sermon that Sunday at Grace Cathedral, which became the concluding event of our trip.
The two reporters assigned to cover the senator on his journey west were Gloria Steinem and Dick Reeves, which meant I got to spend time with both of them, as in four days, and you can't do better than that.
It was, in every conceivable way, a memorable trip. Not least for the fact that upon our return to Washington, I convinced an agent of Eastern Airlines to return their last flight out of National Airport to La Guardia in NYC back to the gate so Gloria and Dick didn't have to take the overnight train to Manhattan (the plane was already beyond the tarmac and rolling toward takeoff, but came back).
As my friendship with Gloria grew, my wife and I gave a party for her at our home in McLean. That was the occasion when I first met Lynn Sherr, who would later become a star with ABC's "20-20," but then was on assignment for AP, writing the first major profile on Gloria (hundreds of writers would subsequently follow Lynn's lead and take Gloria as their subject).
The party was a huge success, with major Washington players in attendance, and even though Henry Kissinger called to say he wouldn't make it, because President Nixon needed him at the White House, it made no difference (Dr. Kissinger and Gloria were then seeing one another).
The good time everyone was having rolled on and we forgot the clock and Gloria and Lynn missed the last flight back to NYC, and so we invited them to stay the night, even though it meant sleeping in Mark and Tim Mitrovich's bunk beds. No problem, they said -- and they did. (Lynn Sherr and I decided it was an odd way to start a friendship, sleeping in your kids' bunk bed, but all these years later, we're still friends.)
Which brings me, finally, to what gave rise to this column, an article in Sunday's March 23rd New York Times by Gail Collins on Gloria's turning 80.
I know Gloria's age, but it still astounds me, because her looks have changed little since the first time we met. Yes, a gentleman would say that, and I think I qualify as a gentleman, but of Gloria Steinem it's quite true. She does not look her age or anything close to it.
The last time Gloria and I were together, she spoke at The Great Fenway Park Writers Series I chair for the Boston Red Sox. She appeared that day, as she is -- tall, thin and beautiful -- and as a speaker, in her quiet way, as powerful and moving as ever. (Larry Lucchino, the Red Sox president, came early to the luncheon that day, heard Gloria speak and stayed for the Q & A, very uncommon for Larry, but a tribute to Gloria and her standing in our world).
Sometime later, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, my great friend in the family, invited me to the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial dinner in New York. I wanted to go, as I never wish to disappoint Kathleen, but as the date neared I knew couldn't, so I asked Kathleen if Gloria Steinem could come in my place. Kathleen said, "How fun would that be."
Gloria told me she had a wonderful time that night, saw friends she hadn't seen in years, made new friends and came up with a new story idea about Mexico.
Ms. Steinem also said that everyone she saw at dinner she told, "I'm here representing George Mitrovich."
So, you tell me: how many men in America can say Gloria Steinem represented them at a dinner?
The accomplishments of Gloria Steinem are huge, and she is owed a debt by women everywhere -- and, while some men still don't get it, by men as well.
But you should know that despite her immense fame and accomplishments, at times I think she is troubled in soul because so much credit has come to her for the liberation of women; knowing, as she does, the achievements are not hers alone, that many brave and courageous women have been in this fight, not least Betty Friedan, but it fell to Gloria to be the face of that movement -- and thus its signature.
My admiration for Gloria Steinem, the kid out of East Toledo, Ohio, is unbounded. My affection for this extraordinary person so gentle of soul and spirit, but whose principles are forged in steel, knows no limits.
Happy Birthday, Ms. Steinem!
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