WASHINGTON — Evelyn “Evy” Dubrow, who died in June at the age of 95, was remembered here Thursday as a tireless champion of labor who bridged the political divide on behalf of garment workers.
Dubrow, named the first Washington lobbyist and representative for the ILGWU in 1956, is the only union advocate to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Diminutive in stature at just 4 feet 11-inches, Dubrow had substantial influence with members of Congress. The late House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill once directed the House doorman to place a chair specifically for Dubrow at the entrance of the chamber.
O’Neill “made it abundantly clear then…that anyone who didn’t get along with her had a problem with him,” said Rep. Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.) “Between Tip O’Neill on one side and my mother [who worked for the ILGWU for 25 years] on the other, quite frankly, I became a deputy of Evelyn Dubrow.”
As the House debated an immigration bill, stripped of provisions granting a path of citizenship to immigrants, which undoubtedly would have disappointed Dubrow, Rangel was among the power players in Washington who paid homage to her at a memorial service.
Among those attending were Sens. Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.), Paul Sarbanes (D., Md.) and Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) and Reps. George Miller (D., Calif.), Marcy Kaptur (D, Ohio) and Sherwood Boehlert (R, N.Y.).
Kennedy surveyed the crowd of labor and women’s rights leaders and said he half expected Dubrow to walk in.
“You don’t meet many living legends in your life, but Evy was one of them,” Kennedy said. “She was truly the 101st senator and she’ll be deeply missed.”
Dubrow was indefatigable and had a personal touch that extended to laborers and lawmakers.
“She went through 24 pairs of shoes a year walking the halls of Congress,” Kennedy said. “She knew everyone.”
When Dubrow arrived in Washington in the Fifties, lobbying was dominated by men. But, armed with a leather-bound list of the names and faces of lawmakers, Dubrow learned to fit in and work the room, played poker with them and babysat their children, including former vice president Al Gore when his father was a senator.
This story first appeared in the September 15, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“She grew up in an era when women were confined primarily to the honorable professions of homemaking, teaching and nursing,” Kaptur said. “To go outside of those boundaries, which she did with humor and deft, took enormous strength.”
Bruce Raynor, general president of UNITE HERE, remembered a lobbying battle on behalf of 150 garment workers in Miami who were making bulletproof vests under a military contract in “abusive” conditions. Inside a senator’s office, Dubrow told Raynor to make the case to help the workers, which he proceeded to do. But facing a recalcitrant politician, Dubrow jumped in and took over.
“She said to me, ‘You’ve got to stand up to politicians. You can’t let them intimidate you,'” Raynor said. “Evy Dubrow never let members of Congress intimidate her.”
Raynor, whose union counts the ILGWU as one of its key predecessors, said he associates Dubrow with three signature issues: trade legislation, immigration and minimum wage.
In a video that showed her at work and illustrated the dizzying number of people she knew, Dubrow explained her job: “I go see everybody who has a vote.”
Working to further the cause of labor was something Dubrow did until the end, as she so noted on the video: “I suspect you’re going to have to take me out feet first to get me out of this job. I love it.”