By Jennifer Ferranti
She?s had some big jobs, but she sees her life as a mission.
On January 4, 1999,
Elizabeth Dole resigned from her position as head of the world?s largest
humanitarian relief agency, immediately signaling her sights were focused
on something even more challenging in Washington.
"The Red Cross is
now as solid as rock and I believe there may be another way for me to
serve our country," she told a room full of tearful employees and
volunteers as she stepped down. "The Red Cross has been a glorious
She became president
of the American Red Cross in 1991. The organization?s first female
president since founder Clara Barton, Dole oversaw a budget of $2.1
billion, 32,000 employees, and 1.4 million volunteers. Hired amid a
scandal over possible HIV-contamination of the blood supply, she promptly
revamped the agency?s blood bank procedures. She also solved its budget
crisis, raising $3.6 billion for the agency along the way. And stressing
the importance of volunteerism, she passed up the first year of her
After only months at
the helm, as she was flying home from Kuwait, Dole realized, "I had
found a job that filled me with a sense of mission like I had never
"I?ve stood by
your side in Florida as we braced for Hurricane Andrew," she reminded
her Red Cross employees in her resignation speech. "I?ve cradled a
gaunt Rwandan baby in my arms. And I?ve sat with our men and women in
uniform, far from home and loved ones, as they keep the peace in Bosnia.
"I have seen
things that will haunt me the rest of my life," she said. "But
in this position, I?ve been able to make a difference for people with
dire human needs. This has been more than a job to me."
Putting first things first
Mary Elizabeth Hanford
was born July 29, 1936, in the idyllic town of Salisbury, North Carolina,
the only daughter of a wealthy flower wholesaler. She describes growing up
in a beautiful and loving Southern home in which "the Gospel was as
much a part of our lives as fried chicken and azaleas in the spring."
At 98, Elizabeth Dole?s
mother still enjoys telling stories about her daughter?s childhood.
One of her favorites
occurred when Elizabeth was about 10 years old. For a time, Elizabeth?s
father owned a drugstore at which he opened a charge account for his
daughter. You can purchase anything you like, he explained to her, but
once you reach your monthly credit limit, you can?t make any additional
purchases that month.
One evening, as her
father was recording the store receipts, he noticed that while Elizabeth
never went over her credit limit, she purchased an extraordinary amount of
comic books. He confronted her about it.
"Why are you
spending so much on comic books?" he sternly asked. The truth came
out. Each time she went into the drugstore, she?d bring five or six
friends along and let them pick out comic books, too, charging it to her
That?s the type of
person Elizabeth has been all through her life, her mother says. She?s
very considerate and generous.
Mom Cathey, was my role model," Dole contends. "Mom Cathey was a
continuous reader of the Bible. And next to her bed was a radio that was
always tuned to religious broadcasts.
"I remember many
Sunday afternoons where I sat with my cousin Anita Cathey and other
children in my grandmother?s living room, munching on cookies and
drinking lemonade as she told us stories from Scripture."
With Mom Cathey, God
always came first, she recalls. She lived a life of selfless spirituality.
"And I wanted to be just like her."
Mom Cathey sowed other
seeds in her granddaughter?s life. When her son was killed by a drunk
driver, there was a considerate amount of money in the life insurance
policy. Every cent of that went to build a hospital wing on a church
mission in Pakistan. In fact, whatever money Mom Cathey could make
available?and she wasn?t wealthy?went to missions abroad and
ministers at home.
In an interview with
Today?s Christian Woman six years ago, Elizabeth Dole elaborated on Mom
Cathey?s lasting legacy. "My grandmother taught me that what we do
on our own matters little?what counts is what God chooses to do through
us. She stressed the importance of ministering to others and Jesus?
instruction to His followers to ?Feed my sheep.?
She had every
intention of living out her grandmother?s advice. "But as we move
along," Dole laments, "how often in our busy lives, something
becomes a barrier to total commitment of one?s life to the Lord. It may
be money, power, or prestige. In my case, my career became of paramount
On a fast track
Ingrained with a
strong work ethic, Dole excelled at just about everything she attempted,
including a political science degree from Duke University, a master?s
degree in education from Harvard (at one time she considered becoming a
Christian education director), and a degree from Harvard Law School, where
she was one of just 24 women in a class of 550.
Her public service
career began as deputy assistant for President Lyndon Johnson?s
Commission on Consumer Interests. When Richard Nixon was elected
president, she was promoted to deputy director. A few years later, she was
appointed to the Federal Trade Commission.
But in 1982, while
serving as head of the White House Office of Public Liaison under
President Ronald Reagan, Elizabeth Dole?s ambitions came to a
She found herself
consumed by work and a form of perfectionism. "My career had become
the center of my life. And that was not the way my wonderful grandmother
had taught me to set priorities. Sunday had become just another day of the
week. And my life was close to spiritual starvation.
"But I knew that
Jesus was my Lord and my Savior," she confirms. "And I knew it
was time to cease living life backwards, time to strive to put Christ
first?with no competition?at the very center of my life. It was time
to submit my resignation as master of my own little universe." She
smiles when she says, "God accepted my resignation."
Foundry Methodist Church, Dole met a pastor who urged her to join a
spiritual growth group that met on Monday nights not far from the White
House. It was there, she says, "I came face to face with a compulsion
to do things right and the companion drive to constantly please.
Gradually, I began to redefine perfectionism the way my grandmother had
definition to her life meant an about-face. "Some people define
strength as independence, self-reliance, and resourcefulness," Dole
explains. "But I?ve learned that real strength, inner strength,
comes from a dependence on the one Source who can replenish life with the
power that comes from above."
Part of that
replenishment comes from setting aside Sunday for spiritual and personal
rejuvenation. For both Elizabeth and her husband Bob, it?s a day for
church and relaxing with friends or family.
"Life is more
than a few years spent on self-indulgence or career advancement," she
offers. "It?s a privilege, a responsibility, a stewardship to be
met according to God?s calling. This alone gives true meaning to
restored to proper order, and a more balanced lifestyle in place,
Elizabeth dole accepted President Reagan?s invitation in 1983 to serve
as Secretary of Transportation, the first female to do so. She led the
crusade to raise the drinking age to 21, directed the overhaul of the
aviation safety inspection security measures at U.S. airports, which led
to tightened security measures around the world.
In the automobile
industry she proposed safety initiatives that included requiring air bags
and automatic safety belts in new cars, as well as the recommendation for
an added safety feature: brake lights at a driver?s eye-level,
affectionately known as "dole lights."
In 1998, President
George Bush appointed her Secretary of Labor. After serving in the
administrations of five presidents since 1965 (being the only woman to
hold two different Cabinet posts under two presidents), Elizabeth Dole
decided to pursue a non-governmental position in 1991. She landed the job
at the American Red Cross.
didn?t hesitate to take a 14-month leave of absence from the Red Cross
when her husband announced his 1996 bid for the presidency. She promised
to return immediately after the election?whether Bob lost or won.
This was the third
time she put her career on hold to campaign for her husband?not as a
political partner, but as his wife.
"My husband and I
have two very separate careers," Dole insists.
Pursuing dual careers
has been somewhat easier without the demands of children, although she
says on the speaking circuit that "the most important career a woman
can have is being a mother."
Bearing her own
children never happened. "I was almost 40 when we got married in
1975, so it (having children) was not so likely to happen," she says.
"If it had, terrific. But since not, we both feel very challenged and
blessed with the kinds of opportunities we?ve had to make a difference
to a lot of children."
She adds: "I?m
lucky to have Robin (Bob?s 42-year-old daughter from his first
marriage), who is much more than a stepdaughter, and a pair of nephews
close enough to be like sons. John (Hanford), a young minister, works in
the Senate on issues of international religious liberty, and Jody
(Hanford) works for Campus Crusade for Christ."
"Bob and I are
both believers," she says. They now attend Washington?s National
Not all glitz and glamour
The Dole?s personal
lifestyle is not nearly as glamorous as the public might imagine. They say
they?ve been meaning to buy a house since the day they got married, but
they?ve just never had time. So they continue to live in an apartment at
the Watergate complex where the senator lived before they were married.
They frequently stay
home with Chinese takeout and a rented video rather than attend another
Washington social event. They both exercise on a treadmill, shop at the
local Safeway, and divide the household chores.
One year, Elizabeth
was reading in her devotions the passage in Luke where Christ said to
entertain those who cannot entertain you (Luke 14:12-14). It triggered an
It was two weeks
before Bob?s birthday. Why not have a reverse birthday party? She
She contacted Sarah?s
Circle, a church-sponsored organization that houses street people in the
inner city of Washington, to book the space. Working with the staff from
Sarah?s Circle, the Doles found out what each street person most wanted.
In honor of Bob?s birthday, the couple feted the street people, with
gifts, a big cake, balloons, and entertainment.
"I shared my
faith and talked about the importance of having Jesus Christ in your life,
how He is able to help you in the midst of adversity. Many of these people
have become Christians and share their story with others in similar
The Doles consider
this kind of "giving" party much more rewarding and fun than a
"receiving" party, prompting them to do it a couple of times.
"This is one way Bob and I have found to make Scripture come alive
journey has taught her the value of putting first things first. "When
God is the center of your life, everything else flows from that," she
No matter where she
winds up in this next phase of life, she?ll approach it with priorities
in place. Mom Cathey?s lessons have sunk in.