- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 28, 2009

“The woman’s movement put the movement in me,” said Constance “Connie” Morella, former ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and former member of Congress representing Maryland’s 8th congressional district. Highly motivated and armed with inspiration, she launched a career in public service that spanned more than three decades. These days, she is a faculty member at American University, where her husband is professor emeritus of the law school.

Originally from Massachusetts, Mrs. Morella began her career as a teacher in 1957. She started out teaching English, civics and history to 11th graders at Poolesville High School in Montgomery County. She subsequently became a professor at Montgomery Community College. During that time, she served on the first Montgomery County Commission for Women and became the second president who lobbied for equity for women in housing, credit, employment and education.

Her skills did not go unnoticed. In 1971, she was served as one of three at-large members of the C&O; Canal National Historical Park Federal Advisory Commission for the Nixon administration. She had an advisory and consultative role regarding general policies and matters related to the administration and development of the 184.5-mile C&O; Canal Historical Park.

“I decided I wanted to have more influence and needed a seat at the table,” said Ms. Morella, and that desire led to her decision to run for a spot in the Maryland House of Delegates. She won the seat and served in the Maryland General Assembly from 1978 to 1986. She sat on the Appropriations Committee and the Transportation and Corrections subcommittees.

Wanting an even greater voice in public affairs, Mrs. Morella, a Republican, decided to run for a seat in Congress.

“I believed that because of my experience and commitment, I could contribute positively to my county, state, and country on a federal level,” she said.

“I wasn’t expected to win,” she said. Win she did, though, and she served from 1987 to 2003. “I had the most Democratic district held by a Republican,” she said. Her interest never waned on women’s issues, and she worked on women’s health issues and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). “It was hard work. I had a great opportunity and privilege to serve,” she said.

During her 16 years in the House of Representatives, she was a leader in promoting economic growth through science and technology. She served as a member of the House Committee on Science and chairman of the subcommittee on technology. A strong supporter of economic growth through free trade, she was co-chairman of the congressional delegation to the U.N. Women’s Conference in Beijing.

While busy in her public life, Mrs. Morella had three children to raise and she and her husband, Tony, welcomed her sister’s six children into her home after their mother died.

“I would like to give credit to my husband,” she said. “He was very proud to take six daughters down the aisle.”

How did she manage a busy public life combined with her personal life and nine children? “You learned priorities. You learned a sense of humor and patience,” she responded.

All the children were given team chores, and each one cleaned their own room. Each child — except the youngest — had a hamper and laundry basket. It wasn’t unusual, in the middle of the night, to hear the “clunk-clunk” of sneakers in the dryer, Mrs. Morella said.

In 2003, President Bush appointed Mrs. Morella to serve as the ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and she lived in Paris. Of the 30 ambassadors and at the insistence of the French government, she was the only one who had security with her at all times.

“I was chauffeured in an armored car,” she said. Regardless of whether she entertained or walked the dog, she had security.

“I didn’t do much shopping,” Mrs. Morella said.

Though she had studied French in school, she was given refresher lessons two to three times per week in Paris.

“I loved France. I liked the issues and working with other nations. I reached out and elevated the impression other countries had of the United States,” she said.

Mrs. Morella participated in negotiations and agreements that led to a strategy of enlargement with five potential country members: Chile, Estonia, Israel, Russia and Slovenia. She also advanced the program to engage with rapidly developing countries that included Brazil, India, Indonesia, China, South Africa and the Southeast Asia region.

Though Mrs. Morella admitted she does miss France, she realized it was time to move on.

“Now, I like to be a political junkie engaged in foreign affairs and try to mentor and inspire young people into public service,” she said. “I like to do what I can to help young people.”

Mrs. Morella, who received her master’s degree in public affairs in 1967 from American University, is a member of the university’s School of Public Affairs’s Women & Politics Institute. She was a professor for 15 years while serving in the House.

Mrs. Morella teaches women, politics and public policy, a core requirement of the institute’s certificate program.

“We are thrilled to have Ambassador Morella join SPA and the Women & Politics Institute,” founder Karen O’Connor said in announcing Mrs. Morella’s appointment. “In Congress, she helped make tremendous strides for women and families.” She also said “students are thrilled” that they will be taught by the member of Congress who successfully sponsored and supported legislation that addressed domestic abuse, child support, health care reform and human rights.

“Public service is exciting, satisfying, gratifying, and an adventure with great rewards,” said Mrs. Morella. “My public service strengthened my belief that America is the land of opportunity. I feel very fortunate to have had the great privilege to serve on many levels in many ways. I am grateful that I had a family who understood, believed and, at times, sacrificed. I try to share with young the people the joy of learning, loving, creating and serving.”

Would she like to run for political office again?

“No,” she said, “been there, done that.”

Karen L. Bune, a consultant with the Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crime and Office of Juvenile Justice programs, is an adjunct professor at George Mason University and Marymount University.

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