WASHINGTON — At a lunch here last week, longtime garment worker lobbyist Evy Dubrow wanted to confess: she’s lied about her age for years. She’s not 84, but 91.
Dubrow’s revelation drew gasps, hollers and applause as she stood firmly on a step stool behind a podium so guests at a tribute for her could see her under-5-foot frame. They certainly had no trouble hearing her. "I’m still the little bitch I always was," Dubrow belted out.
The lie started in 1957 when she was interviewed for an organizer job at the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union. "I was asked how old I was — I was then 47 — but I knew that if I said I was 47, the president of the union would think I was too old. So I said 40," said Dubrow, who continues buttonholing Capitol Hill lawmakers for UNITE, the ILGWU’s successor union.
Over the years, Dubrow hasn’t lost her moxie, nor has she stopped playing poker, her favorite game being seven-card, high-low.
Dubrow announced her retirement five years ago, but then went back to work part-time for UNITE. She’s also been teaching women in Northern Ireland how to get elected to public office. When the International Women’s Democracy Center, sponsor of the Irish effort, needed money, Dubrow — always ready to work an angle for a good cause — suggested Thursday’s lunch as a fund-raiser.
There was no shortage of headliners to speak on Dubrow’s behalf.
"Her grit is really the stuff that legends are made of," Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., N.Y.), told the gathering of Dubrow pals and admirers at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill. In 1999, President Clinton bestowed the Medal of Freedom on Dubrow, a year that Presidents Ford and Carter were also recipients.
"It is true that when she lobbies you, you know you’ve been lobbied," said Rep. Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.), whose mother was an ILGWU member.
Sen. Fritz Hollings (D., S.C.) recalled how 25 years ago a bill setting quotas on textile and apparel imports would have failed if Dubrow hadn’t corralled the votes. "She doesn’t give up," he said.Dubrow grew up around the labor movement of the early 1900s in New York, where her parents — socialist, Yiddish-speaking immigrants from Belarus — were active. Another influence was her older sister Mary, a suffragette arrested for picketing outside the White House during the Wilson administration.
When Dubrow came to Washington, lobbying was mostly a man’s game. But she learned to work a room of politicians, played poker with them and baby-sat their children, including former vice president Al Gore when his father was a senator. Former President Lyndon Johnson was so impressed with Dubrow that he offered her an ambassadorship to Denmark, which she declined.
UNITE president Bruce Raynor called Dubrow a "treasure of the labor movement" and said he’s given up having retirement dinners for her. Former UNITE president Jay Mazur joked about how Dubrow gives him her "Evy looks" when she’s annoyed, but "makes an indelible mark on anyone she meets."
The last to speak, Dubrow said she "thought I was going to be insulted, so I had a whole bunch of things I was going to say." Then she lectured the crowd on how to properly pronounce her Russian name, while letting them in on some secrets to longevity.
"At 91, you’re tempted to be a little old lady who wants to stay home," said Dubrow (pronounced Doo-broe). "When you stay at home you think of your aches and pains. When you go out to work you forget about them…. And so I hope that I will be here several more years to help if I can. And when my time comes, you are not to mourn me. Just remember I’ve lived a lot longer than I was supposed to."