The Texas lawmaker shares memories of a beloved mentor.
Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has a reputation for being one of the fiercest bosses on Capitol Hill — and not always in a good way. But when she recalls her relationship with former congressman and anti-poverty activist Mickey Leland, the tenderness she still feels for him is palpable, just as it is in this 1982 photo in which the two share a dance.
The occasion was a fundraiser at the home of Jackson Lee and her husband, Elwyn, a young couple "who had the great fortune to be mentored by the late Texas lawmaker." Sadly, Leland died at age 44 in an airplane crash on Aug. 7, 1989, while leading a relief effort to a refugee camp in Fugnido, Ethiopia.
"It was good to be able to come into Mickey's life and have him as a mentor immediately and that's what many of us did," Jackson Lee, who was a young attorney working in the energy industry when the photo was taken, told BET.com. "He was a large-sized giant of a hero in our community."
At one point the former Congressional Black Caucus chairman urged her to run for a school board position, which she declined to do, to his disappointment. But although he initially felt down, she says, he had a heart bigger than the state of Texas, and all was forgiven.
"This was a good memory. We had a little combo playing music and wanted to show [Leland], who had a primary opponent, that we're for you and you can stretch your heart around the world, because he was getting criticism for the work he was doing on hunger in Ethiopia and other places," she said. "We wanted to show him that we affirmed what he was doing."
And to this day, Jackson Lee is still following Leland's lead.
Follow Joyce Jones on Twitter: @BETpolitichick.
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(Photo: Courtesy Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee)