Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Maria Leavey Touched Many

I met Maria Leavey at talk radio meeting sponsored by Democracy Radio, three years ago. We remained in touch since that time by phone and email. I would contact her when I wanted to find out what was going on in the talk radio business. Maria was one of those people who knew what was happening, you might call her a "political insider." Needless, to say I was shocked and saddened when I found out that she had passed away suddenly last week at her home in Arlington, VA.

I thought of how lucky I was to know her. Then I read several of tributes to her life that have sprung up over the past few days on blogosphere. I realized at this point, that Maria was not just my source, but was a tireless activist who helped so many people make connections with Washington politicos and media types --usually not looking for compensation or some personal recognition. I realized that she was a lot bigger person than the petit dark heared woman that my fading memory preserved.

I started searching Google, looking for a picture of Maria. I didn’t find a picture, but I came across so many thoughtful and personal remembrances. I became aware that Maria was very involved in the life that she chose to live, even if it didn’t produce financial benefits, or. for that matter, enough money to purchase health insurance.

I came across the obituary in the Washington Post by Matt Schudel. Matt called Maria, a "behind the scenes force for liberal causes who had an uncanny ability to bring opinion makers together with Washington's political elite." I realized then that this modest woman living in a small Arlington, VA apartment, who always had time to talk with me, was a real player in the Washington scene. Here’s some more from WP obit:

Ms. Leavey arrived in Washington in 1993 but, unlike other well-placed media figures, she never held a staff position with a major newspaper, television or radio outlet. Nonetheless, while working out of a small apartment in Crystal City with an outmoded computer, she managed to build contacts at the highest ranks of Washington's political circles. She was a consultant for Howard Dean, now chairman of the Democratic National Committee, during his 2004 campaign for his party's presidential nomination. She worked with senators Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) long before Democrats regained control of the Congress in the 2006 election. She launched a monthly breakfast for liberal-leaning journalists, bringing them together with high-level newsmakers, including Dean, Senate Majority Leader Reid, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and even Grover Norquist, a leading Republican strategist.
The petite, dark-haired Ms. Leavey was known to bake cookies for everyone from political leaders to her mail carrier, and people of all political persuasions were charmed by her refreshing absence of guile.

I also found the remembrance posted by Cenk Ugur of The Young Turks to be especially poignant. Cenk called Maria "a quiet American hero" Cenk said that "she was a champion of progressive causes…not some rich benefactor; she was a hard worker who did all the little things that were absolutely essential. The "Young Turk" recalled a meeting that he had with Maria several months ago.

I remember one time when she had us over for tea. She had gotten us into yet another conference and helped to set everything up. And instead of asking for anything back, she went out of her way to make sure she had us over for a little food she prepared. It's not like she was showing off, her apartment was humble and she showed us the old computer she got all her work done on and that always gave her trouble. And that afternoon we sat and talked about how important it was that the right ideas prevailed in America. There was no gain for her, no angle. She just really wanted to make sure the country was headed in the right direction. She actually cared.

We cannot second guess, the choices that Maria made during her life. But you can’t help but wonder if she would be alive today if she was able to afford health insurance. Blogger and friend Matt Stoller speculated on this, in his the personal remembrance he posted on his blog:

That lack of health insurance is probably why she died, suddenly, at age 53. Her family had a prior history of heart problems, but I assume she couldn't get the regular check-ups that are necessary in such a situation. Maria wasn't the type of person who would demand something for herself; she just sacrificed rather than put her allies in an uncomfortable situation. This was the case even with health insurance. She had many invaluable skills, but getting progressives to value her wasn't one of them.

Talk show host and blogger Taylor Marsh was one of several bloggers that described a personal experience with Maria, that led to doors opening and new opportunities. Taylor opened a blog entry entitled "Farewell Maria" by writing "This has been such a momentous day. But as it is with life, amidst great moments of triumph and joy often comes a bolt from the blue to remind us of how precious life is, as well as how fleeting and fickle. It was that way today. A great heroine of the progressive movement is gone."

Taylor who does a weekly internet talk radio show, also related how Maria helped her to get her show off the ground. Here’s what she wrote.

As most of you know, I am on a seemingly never ending journey to get my radio show back on terrestrial radio. Maria Leavey understood that dream of mine and never hesitated to lend an ear or send an email of news about progressive radio, good or bad, and usually about dirt that wasn't being printed, just to give me a heads up.

As I read the many tributes and remembrances regarding Maria’s untimely passing I couldn’t help but notice that there were few links to her postings over the past few years. Then I was really not surprised by this. Maria preferred to work behind the scenes. She avoided the limelight. She didn’t have a blog or a lengthy paper trail. However, her writings do show up – usually as comment on someone else's blog. Here’s one that I found in the Washington Monthly blog where she was defending right wing media critic David Brock.

James Warren's determination to find fault with The Republican Noise Machine by David Brock has forced him to present arguments that are either specious or irrelevant ("What Ailes Us," September). If the invisible hand of the media market were the ultimate arbiter of content, as Warren suggests, then we would all be listening to Howard Stern and watching pornography. One also does not have to assume a sinister conspiracy to accept Brock's documented description of organized cooperation among partisans of the right to bend the means of communication to their ends. Even Warren admits their success. Further, while it is probably true that most people get their information from local news and newspapers, the news agenda is set by a national press increasingly intimidated by the threat of being labeled liberal. Finally as Warren surely knows, the efforts of Michael Moore, MoveOn.org, and their ilk can hardly compare to the decades-long, billion-dollar industry that promotes the other side.

Just like Maria, not tooting her horn. Just defending one her many friends.

Goodbye Maria. I’m going to miss you. I am not alone.

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