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A Mother's Day Tribute to Helen Cole

May 14, 2007
Weekly Columns

Last Sunday Americans across the country honored their mothers. When I think about my role in Congress, I think about how it all started with my Mom and the lessons she taught me as a boy that I have carried with me throughout my life.

Helen Cole, my late mother, was a selfless, loving, strong and wise woman who was as proud of the state of Oklahoma as she was of her Chickasaw heritage. Although many knew her through her political activities and her volunteer work, I knew her first and foremost as my Mom. She taught me and my brother the importance of treating everyone respectfully, and in return, she taught us to expect the same from others. She expected my brother and me to be a credit to our family and our heritage, and to live up to the potential that each of us possessed. She always said to me, "If you do the wrong thing in life, it won't be because you weren't taught the right thing." And that was true in our household. We knew the difference between right and wrong, and when we did wrong, we knew the stern judgment of our mother would hold us accountable.

My mother was not a privileged woman. She was a young Indian girl growing up with a single mother in Oklahoma during the Great Depression. She wasn't offered too many opportunities, and she never graduated from college. But she was a firm believer in taking control of her own fate, and I never heard her once complain about what she didn't have growing up. She was the type of woman who gave selflessly to her family, her community and her people. She put every dime she made into helping me through college because she believed that it was a way for me to better myself and our family. She was always doing that, sincerely giving everything she had to help others.

My Mom loved politics and she was a superb politician. She was the type of person who made the people around her better because she expected the best from herself and from other people. But she also expected to be treated with that same respect and she wouldn't let anyone get away with treating her with any less. She embodied the John Wayne attitude, "I won't be wronged. I won't be insulted. I won't be laid a-hand on. I don't do these things to other people, and I require the same from them." Because of this egalitarian attitude and her kindness, people were drawn to my mother and they loved her for the person she was, so when the time came to run a tough race, there were volunteers lined up from all walks of life to help her claim victory. I always say that her funeral was a true testament of her character. There were 2000 people, from governors to gardeners, who came to pay their respects the day we buried her.

My Mom was not only an inspiration to me, but she also left behind an impression on the people she knew and met during her lifetime. She was incredibly proud of her Native American heritage and the Chickasaw Tribe to whom she belonged. She taught us that our heritage was something to be lived, valued and celebrated. She loved the military. As the step daughter, sister, wife and mother of men who served in the armed forces, she knew first-hand what the life of a military family is like. She honored the service of my father and brother, and although I was never in the military myself, she taught me the same appreciation and patriotism that she held for our country and our men and women in uniform.

James Baldwin once said that, "Children have never been good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them." The impression that my mother made on me as well as all who knew her will never fade, and I hope that everyday that passes I am one step closer to being like her. She was a true patriot who gave selflessly to serve her country and her state in every capacity. As we remember our mothers during this special time, let us be thankful for the examples they have set, the love they have shown, and the legacies they have left behind.