August 21, 2008

Case Western Reserve President Snyder remembers Stephanie Tubbs Jones as Political Pioneer, University Friend

To the Case Western Reserve University Community:

Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Barbara Snyder
Stephanie Tubbs Jones with Barbara Snyder

I share with all of you profound sorrow at the sudden death of Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, one of our most distinguished alumnae.

A graduate of both Flora Stone Mather College and our School of Law, Stephanie emerged as one of Ohio's modern-day political pioneers. She was the first female and first African-American to serve as prosecutor in Cuyahoga County, the first African-American woman to serve as a judge for the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas and the first African-American woman from Ohio elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

But for all of these historic accomplishments, what always struck me most about Stephanie was her capacity to bring joy to others.

I cannot recall a single conversation with Stephanie where she didn't make me smile or laugh. She had such energy, character and genuine affection for people—you couldn't help but feel uplifted even after just a few moments in her presence. Certainly Stephanie took her professional roles seriously; she was committed to justice and equitable treatment for all, and worked relentlessly to advance those goals. Yet she always demonstrated a sense of exuberant engagement in the activities of the day—whether seeking to mediate a teachers' strike in Maple Heights or campaigning for Hillary Clinton across the country. You knew she loved what she did. You knew she loved making a difference in people's' lives.

Stephanie was such a friend to her alma mater. She attended Commencements and Convocations, hosted our annual GospelFests and even served as a Grand Marshal in our Homecoming Parade. She spoke frequently of her pride in being a "double graduate" of Case Western Reserve University, sometimes joking that she cared for the place so much she chose a home across the street from our campus. She maintained close friendships with classmates and even her undergraduate dean, Patricia Kilpatrick.

"I loved her so much," Stephanie once said of Pat, "I had Mervyn on her birthday."

Our hearts go out to Mervyn Jones II, who has lost his wonderful mother only five years after his father died. Just as Stephanie proved to be such a wonderful and kind supporter of our university, so too will we seek to provide him and the rest of her family with whatever comfort we can in this trying time.

Death always challenges us, never more so than when it strikes without warning. Amid our shock and disbelief, we search for explanations to make sense of what we cannot hope to understand. I am no exception. Today I recalled the funeral service for Rosa Parks, when Oprah Winfrey spoke of meeting a civil rights giant who proved "petite, almost delicate" in person. Oprah continued:

"After our first meeting I realized that God uses good people to do great things. And I'm here today to say a final thank you…"

Today, we at Case Western Reserve University say the same to Stephanie Tubbs Jones—and I know we are just some of many.

If you would like to join our community and me in remembering Stephanie Tubbs Jones, please feel free to record your thanks and memories or read the reflections of others at


Barbara R. Snyder