Originally published August 2008 on Obit-Mag.com.
Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones’ star was on the rise. As a fiercely progressive, outspoken and respected legislator, she served years as a backbencher, representing the impoverished east side of Cleveland in the House of Representatives. But this year, with membership in the House Ways and Means Committee, the Chair of the House Ethics Committee and resounding bipartisan respect from her colleagues, Rep. Jones looked to make an impact for the causes she championed, like health care for children.
And so her sudden death from a brain aneurism on August 20th, just weeks before her 59th birthday, comes as a particularly painful shock to her constituents, her colleagues in the House and to public servants across the country, who saw in Rep. Jones the story of woman who emerged from humble beginnings to rise to the most august chambers of public service.
She was the first African-American woman to be elected to Congress from the State of Ohio. Her father was a skycap at Cleveland Hopkins Airport and her mother was a factory worker. After high school she earned a Bachelor’s Degree and a law degree from Case Western Reserve University, and maneuvered her way as a prosecutor and municipal judge with integrity and élan through the notoriously venal polity of
She was a fighter and elbowed her way through many close elections and clashes of succession. As the Cleveland Plain Dealer narrates, her political triumphs precipitated from her bright embrace of the glad-handing and back patting of local politics:
“After nearly winning an Ohio Supreme Court seat in 1990, she leaped into an intraparty fight to succeed a former boss, the legendary County Prosecutor John T. Corrigan. She won, and rivals who had once underestimated the young woman with the big smile began to pay deference.”
She impressed equally in her primary victory for the seat in Ohio’s 11th Congressional district in 1998. A strong five-candidate field came forth for the seat previously held by Lou Stokes. Tubbs Jones arose with a stunning 51 percent of the vote, though local observers predicted a much closer race.
Rep. Tubbs Jones always seemed to defy expectations. With Expectations finally in line with her abilities, we’ll never know what she might have accomplished. As Keats would have said, “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard/ Are sweeter.”