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View from around the state: Bush, Phillips made our country a better place

— From The Capital Times

mugsWe lost two outstanding Americans last week — nationally, former first lady Barbara Bush, and here in Wisconsin, the trailblazing civil rights champion Vel Phillips.

Mrs. Bush was the wife of a former president and the mother of another, yet despite the rough and tumble of the politics that surrounded her, she gained the admiration of Americans of all political persuasions. Oh, she could speak her mind — and did so when presidential candidate Donald Trump made a personal attack on her son Jeb.

“He’s said terrible things about women, terrible things about the military,” she said of Trump in a CNN interview. “I don’t understand why people are for him.”

But while she would occasionally speak her mind, Barbara Bush remained mostly above the fray. She was dignified, engaged and a humanitarian, leading efforts to promote literacy and long promoting civil rights and representing to the world what America is really all about.

“My dear mother has passed on at age 92. Laura, (daughters) Barbara, Jenna, and I are sad, but our souls are settled because we know hers was,” her son and former President George W. Bush said on her death. “Barbara Bush was a fabulous first lady and a woman unlike any other who brought levity, love, and literacy to millions. To us, she was so much more. Mom kept us on our toes and kept us laughing until the end. I’m a lucky man that Barbara Bush was my mother. Our family will miss her dearly, and we thank you all for your prayers and good wishes.”

Our sentiments exactly.

Wisconsin’s Vel Phillips became an American icon in a different way. In an interview with Cap Times reporter Jessie Opoien in 2014 when she was honored with a distinguished UW alumni award, she recalled that as a black student back in the late ’40s and early ’50s she wasn’t allowed to eat in the Memorial Union’s Rathskeller.

Perhaps that was what propelled her to achieve an incredible number of firsts during a career that focused on helping make Wisconsin a better place.

She became the first African-American woman to graduate from the UW Law School, the first woman and first African-American to be elected to the Milwaukee City Council, the first to be elected a Milwaukee County judge and the first to be elected to statewide office, secretary of state in 1978.

She spent her life pushing for open housing, marching for civil rights and advocating for the poor and those who experienced discrimination. On more than one occasion she wound up being arrested. She was a friend of Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall and corresponded with John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter.

Her remarkable career was captured in a touching documentary — “Vel Phillips: Dream Big Dreams” — produced by Wisconsin Public Television in 2015, which is still being shown in schools and at community gatherings throughout the state.

Vel Phillips touched thousands of lives during her 94 years on earth. She was a true pioneer and like Barbara Bush, a symbol of what’s good in our society.

We’re going to miss these two remarkable women.

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