06/20/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Dorothy Height: Washington Won't Be the Same Without You

Dorothy Height was a presence in Washington -- often you'd see her hat before you saw her. In the 30 years that I've lived in the nation's capital, I've seen her at dozens of events, rallies, luncheons and meetings. Even in the past few years when her body was betraying her, she remained determined and fierce. She died today, yet another in a line of our esteemed elders who paved the way for us to be free, self-determining, strong men and women.

She was best known for her work in the civil rights movement, but I was equally impressed by her efforts on behalf of women -- to ensure child care, fight for better career opportunities, encourage us to walk alongside -- never behind -- our men. We seem to take so much for granted these days when so many choices and opportunities are available to us. It's easy to forget that women like Dorothy Height were born in a time when her life was claustrophobic and some choices unavailable to her on the basis of her skin color and gender. So much has changed for the generations that followed hers, and some of the credit goes to Ms. Height.

I will miss seeing her around DC and the one of two responses she always engendered: either a hushed, reverential, "That is Dorothy Height!" or "What is with that lady in the hat?" Her hats were sometimes impossibly large and fussy, on a scale that few others would choose to wear. But few others still alive today had the impact on our lives that she had. Rest in peace, Ms. Height, and I hope you spend eternity wearing a fabulous hat, and basking in the glow of a life lived well.