September 13, 2001
Barbara Olson, Advocate and Conservative Commentator, Dies at 45
By NEIL A. LEWIS
WASHINGTON, Sept. 12 — Barbara K. Olson, who was killed on Tuesday on the commercial jetliner that was hijacked and flown into the Pentagon, was well known to television viewers across the nation as a combative and confident political commentator representing the conservative Republican point of view.
Mrs. Olson, 45, was also half of a highly influential couple on Washington's social-political scene; her husband, Theodore B. Olson, an appellate lawyer, successfully argued the Florida election case for George W. Bush before the Supreme Court. President Bush named Mr. Olson the nation's solicitor general, the official who formulates the administration's strategy before the nation's courts.
Mr. Olson was in his Justice Department office on Tuesday morning when he received two calls from Mrs. Olson, who was using her cell phone aboard American Airlines Flight 77 to tell him the plane had been hijacked. Her description of what was occurring in her last moments provided what officials said was valuable information about the incident. She reported that the flight crew had been herded to
the back of the plane with the passengers, and she asked her
husband what she should tell the pilot who was apparently beside her while the hijackers were in control of the cockpit.
Mrs. Olson's friends and her husband said her efforts to "do
something" on the doomed plane were exquisitely in character. " She never sat back," her husband said in an interview.
The Olsons, who were married four years ago, complemented each other in style. Mrs. Olson was the more outspoken of the two in her televised commentaries, while Mr. Olson presented a more deliberative face in his role as the reigning constitutional litigator for the Republican establishment.
Although Mrs. Olson was generally a take-no-prisoners advocate, Mr. Olson recalled on Tuesday that she recently told him she had come to believe that the national political debate had become too acrimonious. He recalled that she said that during one television appearance, she believed those who called in comments to her and her liberal counterpart, Bill Press, were far too harsh.
Barbara Kay Bracher Olson was born on Dec. 27, 1955, in Houston, and trained to be a teacher at the University of St. Thomas in her hometown. But, she had told friends, she wanted to save enough money to go to law school and decided a quicker way to do so than teaching was to become a part of the film industry.
With no experience in the field but an abundance of self-confidence, she moved to Hollywood and began telephoning
production companies connected to well-known actors, offering herself as an all-around helper. Stacy Keach finally offered her a job, Mr. Olson recalled this week, and when she saved enough money to go to law school, she moved to New York to attend the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University.
Mrs. Olson turned down jobs in New York after law school because she yearned to live in Washington. As chief counsel for the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee's Republican majority from 1995 to 1996, Mrs. Olson led the investigation into President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton's role in firing longtime employees of the White House travel office. She became a caustic and relentless critic of the Clintons.
Mrs. Olson wrote "Hell to Pay" (Regnery, 1999), a highly critical book about Mrs. Clinton, and recently finished a sequel, "Final Days," about the Clintons' last weeks in the White House. Mr. Olson said it would be published by Regnery.
Mrs. Olson is survived by her brother, David Bracher, and her sister, Antoinette Lawrence, both of Houston, as well as her husband.
Editorial Obituary published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on September 13, 2001