Lessons Learned: Virginia Leaders Talk About Women Who Inspired Them

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring held a panel discussion in honor of Women's History Month.

By Amie Knowles

March 26, 2021

State leaders joined Mark Herring for a discussion geared towards Women’s History Month.

RICHMOND-Mark Herring’s mother grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. In the 1950s, she became a flight attendant. Herring said that she loved her job.

Her career came to a halt when she met Herring’s father and they made plans to marry. Because of their union, Herring’s mother had to give up her job.

“At that time, like most airlines, they had a no-marriage rule,” Herring said. “And you could not be a woman and be married and also be a flight attendant. And I just know how much she loved that job and how disappointed she was to have to quit.”

In a turn of events, the airline offered Herring’s mother the job again – but that came 25 years later and as a result of a class action lawsuit.

“My sister and I urged her to take it. She didn’t because, you know, circumstances change, but it meant so much to her that that wrong had been made right. And there was an acknowledgement that what had happened was wrong,” Herring said. “It also taught me a lot about how – in that instance and so many others that I saw my mom and my sister and so many others go through – that we have had policies and laws that have held women back.”

Virginia’s attorney general shared his thoughts during a roundtable discussion, as he talked with state senators Ghazala Hashmi and Jennifer Boysko, Del. Wendy Gooditis, Andrea Bailey, a representative from the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, and former Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg.

A Family of Advocates

Bailey grew up in a four generation home.

“[That included] myself, my mom, my grandma, my great-grandma,” Bailey said. “And that grandma and great-grandma were advocates from the womb, I imagine.”

Bailey witnessed her grandmother walk people to the polls to vote, a right she didn’t have when she grew up in Mississippi.

“She understood the importance of casting the vote, and the community understanding why they had [an] investment or a part in decisions made in the community,” Bailey said.

The other women in the home also advocated for things, the supervisor recalled.

“My great-grandma was a sharecropper, my grandma was a domestic engineer [and] my mom was the first graduate from high school. And she was the breadwinner of the family,” Bailey said. “And so I had great role models, even though my dad was not really in the home. I had great role models of how to be strong and how to stand up for yourself, being an only child as well.”

The women in Bailey’s youth showed her the importance of having a voice and using that voice for truth.

A Grandmother’s Example

Growing up in India with her grandmother until the age of five, Hashmi learned several valuable lessons.

“She was born in 1918 and she was born into a society, in a time where the education of young girls was really not valued or understood,” Hashmi said.

Her third grade year culminated Hashmi’s grandmother’s formal educational experience. She was only eight years old.

“But I’ll tell you, she was one of the smartest, sharpest women I have ever known in my life,” Hashmi said. “She could make grown men quake in their boots with her tongue. So what she taught me was, standing up for yourself, speaking your mind, speaking it with clarity and defending honor and truth. She always was someone who really valued ethics and integrity.”

The senator also noted that her grandmother valued women’s education. Even though she only went to school through third grade, Hashmi’s grandmother ensured that both of her daughters not only completed college, but also went on to graduate work.

“And then she was certainly very, very proud of her grandchildren – and her granddaughters in particular – and what they were able to do,” Hashmi said.

A Difficult Start

Boysko’s mother dropped out of college at age 19 and married who she thought was the man of her dreams. Sadly, the marriage dissolved.

“I watched her as a young kid struggle with sub-minimum wage jobs,” Boysko said. “In fact, one job that she had, they paid her with two sleeping bags and an electric knife without a cord as her salary after working for a month.”

Boysko’s mother found another minimum wage job. However, the position offered no sick leave and no ability to take time off. That proved problematic, as Boysko has asthma.

“So she had to make a decision,” Boysko said. “Do I pay my babysitter more than I’m going to make? Do I leave my daughter home by herself? Or do I have an unpaid day at, you know, missing work?”

Fortunately, Boysko’s grandfather had the means to help her mother go back to college. She graduated and became a registered nurse, supporting her family.

Boysko’s mother also made it a priority to send the senator to college.

“And that is really my inspiration for my public service around economic opportunity for people who have been disenfranchised, including women and also minorities and people of color and immigrants,” Boysko said.

A Strong Example

Gooditis spoke next, telling the panel about her grandmother. In the 1920s, she graduated from college with a masters in education – which Gooditis noted was rare for a woman at the time.

She married and had two small children. Sadly, her husband died.

Suddenly, Gooditis’s grandmother became the sole supporter for her young children and her parents.

“She had to leave the children home with the grandparents and go away to work,” Gooditis said. “During and after World War II, her work was with German [prisoners of war]. And then, with the Japanese who had been so cruelly mistreated during the war.”

The delegate’s grandmother also showed kindness to a Japanese family. In fact, her mother befriended them so well that as a child, Gooditis thought the Japanese family and her own family were kin.

“I grew up thinking that was my aunt and uncle, and those are my cousins,” Gooditis said. “So that was very, a real blessing for me.”

The delegate referenced the recent spa shootings in Atlanta, Georgia, in which eight individuals of Asian descent lost their lives. The tragedy brought up memories of her grandmother and the love she shared.

“The fact that my grandmother, during that time, had a big enough heart and an open enough mind to reach out to both of those populations and work with them and care for them – that has always been a real inspiration to me,” Gooditis said.

Keeping Good Company

Silberberg kept with the theme of the evening, giving a nod to a woman in her family that inspired her.

“My mom was deeply involved in the community. And so I thought everyone’s mom was really involved in the community,” Silberberg said. “We were always involved in various causes.”

The former mayor recalled the type of company her mother kept. She surrounded herself with strong women, like Adlene Harrison, the first female mayor of Dallas, Texas. She also got to know Ann Richards, a former governor of the Lonestar State. Silberberg’s mother also rubbed shoulders with Molly Ivins, a famous columnist.  

“My mom worked on two gubernatorial races and was on staff and really was an important part of the campaign and got an appointment from governor Richards,” Silberberg said. “I saw all these women running and serving.”

The former mayor noted that during her term and beyond, she served as a voice for the voiceless, for the most vulnerable and for women of color.

Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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