Pat Schroeder, a pioneering congresswoman, dies. She was 82


ORLANDO, Fla. — Pat Schroeder, a Colorado congresswoman, presidential candidate and longtime resident of central Florida, died Monday. She was 82.

Schroeder suffered a stroke and was placed in a hospice at her home in Celebration, former Orange County Mayor Linda Chapin said. Her daughter, Jamie Cornish, confirmed her death in an email to The New York Times on Monday.

“She was like a beacon,” said Susannah Randolph, a Democratic activist and former congressional candidate. “…Growing up in the ’80s, she was my bedtime story. She was the woman I grew up thinking that she is the one who fights for all of us.”

Chapin said Schroeder “had a great influence on women not just of one generation, but of three generations. Her grandchildren, her granddaughters, my granddaughters are out there protesting when it matters.”

Schroeder, who represented the Denver area in Congress for 24 years, joined Celebration in 2008 after retiring from her post-political tenure as President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers.

She quickly became a cornerstone of the central Florida political community, taking younger Democrats under her wing and advising local officials.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, first met Schroeder in 2010 at a Women’s Equality Day march at the University of Central Florida and called her “one of my greatest cheerleaders.”

“I feel so blessed that she has come to call Central Florida home,” Eskamani said. “And I learned so much from her when it comes to public service and just being a woman in politics.”

Despite her retirement, Randolph said, “Schroeder mentored, she advised, she was active, she took action, and she was still as big a figure and influential figure around here as ever. Even after a career most people would dream of.”

Schroeder, born Patricia Scott in Portland, Oregon, moved to Iowa as a child and graduated from the University of Minnesota and Harvard Law School.

“No one wanted us there,” Schroeder said of Harvard Law during a 2020 interview with the Orlando Sentinel. “Men would say to us, ‘Don’t you know you’re taking a man’s seat?'”

Schroeder and her husband Jim moved to Denver in the mid-1960s, where she worked for the National Labor Relations Board, Planned Parenthood, and as a public school teacher before successfully running for Congress in 1972 at the age of 32. She was the state’s first woman member of Congress.

“In the early days of her service in Congress, there was opposition to women,” Chapin said. “And she very often overcame them by just showing a good mood.”

“I have a brain and a womb, and I use them both,” she replied when a male congressman asked how she could be a wife, mother and congressman.

US Rep. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, who said he spoke to Schroeder frequently, said Schroeder was “an advocate for children and families.”

“She was one of the few women in Congress at the time and was elected at a very young age,” Soto said. “It’s proof that the Congress is becoming more diverse, more perspectives are included and it’s making a huge difference in the way we live.”

Schroeder, a working mother who brought diapers to the floor of Congress, pushed for the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, which allows workers to take unpaid leave after having a child, and the Military Family Act of 1985, which allowed military personnel helped spouses and children adapt to military life.

She also served as the only woman on the House Armed Services Committee.

“When men talk about defense, they always claim to protect women and children, but they never ask the women and children what they think,” she once said.

In 1987, she led the presidential campaign for US Senator Gary Hart, D-Colo. But when Hart quit after a sex scandal, Schroeder jumped into the act himself.

Asked by reporters why she was running “as a woman,” she replied, “What choice do I have?”

She finally retired in September 1987, saying she “couldn’t figure out how to run and not get separated from those I serve. … For people who wanted to change my style, I’m sorry. I am me, what can I do?”

While her presidential bid was described as short, her campaign lasted longer than that of then-US Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, who had quit the week before.

When she retired, she held what The New York Times called “an emotional press conference.” Schroeder later told USA Today she still received hate mail for her tears that day, including from many women.

“It’s like 20 years ago I ruined her life by catching my breath for three seconds,” Schroeder said. “…boys rave about it all the time, and people think it’s wonderful.”

After retiring to Florida, Schroeder has been outspoken on local issues, including supporting a living wage proposal in Osceola County that failed in 2015.

“So embarrassed to see articles about Osceola and the area where there is a lot of tourism but very little, 50th out of 50 [major metros]’ she said at the time. “This is about human dignity, that’s what it’s about.”

Schroeder did not shy away from a good fight, said Chapin. Often she just went looking.

“She went to the café in the morning to celebrate and discussed with others [political] beliefs,” Chapin said. “Pat was always willing to be in a good mood and discuss problems with anyone. And of course she was an expert.”

Schröder was a legend even among national personalities. Randolph spoke of taking her to an event in Washington in 2015 or so.

“She hasn’t been to DC in a long time,” Randolph said. “But I remember walking into this room in this hotel and all the women who were senators and representatives, these titan women, would do anything to get to her, to talk to her, to get her advice. … Pat Schroeder really was that big.”

Schroeder is survived by her husband Jim and their children Scott and Jamie.

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