Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao thanked the Independent Women's Forum for its Woman of Valor award by saluting the woman who inspired the honor.
"She was fearless in her final moments. She passed a test of valor few of us will ever face," Mrs. Chao said of author and political commentator Barbara K. Olson, an IWF co-founder who died in the attack on the Pentagon on September 11.
The second annual Barbara K. Olson Woman of Valor awards dinner at the Fairmont Hotel Tuesday night recognized Mrs. Chao for her poise, achievements in office and unflagging devotion to freedom.
"She's done all this with grace, style, charm, class and a beautiful warm smile that makes everyone a friend," former Solicitor General Ted Olson said, his gravelly voice reduced to a near whisper when he noted that Mrs. Chao's work ethic and manner often reminded him of his late wife.
Mr. Olson's emotional tribute was a highlight of the dinner, which raised $285,000 for the IWF. The women's group works to tear the victim label from women everywhere while promoting free enterprise, small government and self-sufficiency.
Among the 350 guests toasting both the guest of honor and the forum were Reps. Mark Foley, Paul Ryan and Trent Franks; former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie; Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway and Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who also happens to be Mrs. Chao's husband, provided the evening's toast. IWF Chairwoman Heather R. Higgins lobbed a few one-liners -- "We're a women's group who like men" -- to lighten the mood.
During the pre-program reception, IWF President Nancy Mitchell Pfotenhauer said Mrs. Chao has "worked valiantly to achieve workplace flexibility" to allow employees to shift schedules based on personal and/or family demands, "even if it means butting heads with powerful labor unions."
Mrs. Pfotenhauer took pride in her group's expanding profile, which was illustrated by a wealth of TV news clips featuring IWF experts engaged in spirited debates. More traditional feminists, she noted with some satisfaction, are making her organization's work easier by "positioning themselves further outside the mainstream."
-- Christian Toto