There are many women I know, that I respect.
There are certainly many women I know who have such specific and unusual strengths and talents that they cause me to quickly sit up and take notice.
There are even some women with such strong faith and amazing character that they are stellar role models for those of us who have a great passion– yet so often fail– to be the kind of woman that brings joy to God’s heart and true glory to His Name.
And then there are those very few outstanding, Godly women that seem to have all of these qualities. They’re the ones that you only come across once in your lifetime, and your life is forever impacted. For me, that woman was Ellen Craswell.
Ellen was born in Washington state in 1932, and died of cancer in 2008 at the age of 75– yet not without impacting a very great number of people, of whom I am one. I first met Ellen in 1996, when she was running as the Republican candidate for governor against Democrat Gary Locke. My husband and I –and our children– became actively involved in her campaign, attracted by her central message, that God was the only true source for good and prosperous government.
That hadn’t always been her conviction. Neither Ellen– a certified medical technologist who was an avid mountain climber– nor her husband Bruce–a dentist– were Christians in those early years, when they married and started raising their family of four. In 1976 when their children were grown, Ellen ran for Washington State House of Representatives, and served two 2-year terms. From there, she won the Senate race and served in the Senate from 1980 until 1992. In 1987 she became the first woman in Washington state history to be chosen Senate president “pro tem.”
During that time, Bruce had a very dramatic encounter with Christ (he still tears up as he shares his testimony), and the incredible change in his life had such an impact on Ellen that she, too, came to a life-changing faith in Jesus Christ. Becoming a Christian set a new course for the remainder of Ellen’s years in public service. Under public scrutiny as an elected official, she was named “Senator No” because of her consistent opposition to increasing taxes. She was probably best known for her highly visible pro-life and pro-family positions.
In 1996, she was the Republican gubernatorial candidate, but lost her bid for governor in November to Democrat Gary Locke. Less than a week later, she was diagnosed with a second bout of cancer, and for the second time, returned to full health after treatment.
But what’s most remarkable is that through all of these events, Ellen constantly showed us what a true “Godly woman” looks like. Even as she uncompromisingly maintained the deepest convictions she held so dearly, she did it with incredible graciousness. She always carried herself like a lady, with gentleness, kindness, and a very sweet spirit. She never spoke harshly, never uttered a coarse word, and never spoke badly of anyone, even those with whom she strongly disagreed. Clearly, she personified the Proverbs 31 woman who is intelligent, business-minded, industrious, and yet full of grace and beauty.
For those who knew her, there was no question that after God Himself, her family was her primary committment– and the love and respect they showed toward her became her truest legacy. With all of her political accomplishments notwithstanding, I will remember her best for the tea parties she held weekly with her granddaughters. For ten consecutive years, Ellen kept up this special, intimate time with her little grand-girls every week, serving them tea and cake while she read to them from the Bible and had a prayer time with them. She not only loved her family, but her deepest desire was that every one of them would know the love and Lordship of Jesus Christ in their lives.
When I anticipate heaven, one of the things I most look forward to will be sitting around the table again, talking about “God as the foundation of politics” like we did as several couples hour upon hour. Ellen used to laugh about this combination of her two great loves: God and politics. On several occasions, these times provided great training opportunities for her daughter-in-law Denise to make use of with her daughters, as together they planned, prepared and served wonderful meals to Bruce and Ellen’s guests. Some amazing skills were beautifully honed in this atmosphere of stellar hospitality!
Yet none of Ellen’s accomplishments would have come to be without the wonderful partnership she had with her husband Bruce, whom she always respected and deferred to. They were truly a team, and in the fullest sense, Bruce was part of every single aspect of Ellen’s involvements. Bruce himself had run for Congress, and together they shared a deep common passion for God to be at the foundation of public policy. Sometimes, Bruce and Ellen became so involved in their discussions, or sharing together in their political activities, that time–quite literally– became irrelevant. We found that out once when Dan and I were shaken awake at 12:30 a.m. by a call from Ellen, who with Bruce had been considering some aspects of politics and wanted to ask Dan’s opinion of it. I don’t think they ever realized what time it was that they’d called him.
Bruce told me that once, when they were working and in discussions together, he suddenly noticed how dark it was outside, and said, “Shouldn’t we be stopping to have some dinner?” only to realize that it was already 3 a.m. and they had stopped for dinner hours and hours before. I remember arriving at their house once at 10 p.m., and true to his nature, Bruce immediately put the coffee on, anticipating that we were all “just getting started!”
These days, when I see the current popularity of women in political debate, I feel so sad at the compromised femininity, the immodesty, the coarseness of language, the harshness of their manner, and anger with which they communicate. I so greatly wish these women could have learned the skill with which Ellen Craswell practiced feminine grace along with unwavering Christian committment.
Ellen’s cancer returned in November, 2007, and she passed away peacefully on April 5, 2008. My life has rarely been impacted by anyone as it has by Ellen.
I miss her. I miss her delicious home-grown beef that she roasted marinated with apple cider. I miss those funny, funny games of Balderdash, and laughing over silly definitions and words we’d never heard of before. I miss going to political conventions, and going out to eat late at night after some difficult political confrontations, laughing together in order to gain perspective…
More than anything else, I miss the beautiful example of Christian womanhood that Ellen was to me and to so many other women. I just don’t have the confidence that I’ll see another role model like that again in my lifetime. But I pray that perhaps my granddaughters will.
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