‘Irreplaceable’ Tubbs Jones honored by friends, colleagues

Theresa Bruskin

Thousands gather to bid farewell to Cleveland’s groundbreaking congresswoman

Although the memorial service for Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones was a who’s-who of both national and local politics, it was a 16-year-old high school student who provided perhaps the best example of how deeply the Cleveland native loved and was loved.

Tiffany Robertson, from Martin Luther King High School in Cleveland, at times overcome by tears, told how Tubbs Jones visited her eighth grade class two years ago and after seeing the classroom full of girls, took the students under her wing.

“She said ‘Well I promise you, from here on out I’m gonna be here for you if you all keep your grades up,'” Robertson said. “We got our grades up and ever since then, she kept her promise.”

“We are family and we got to stick together. We gotta carry on her legacy because that’s what she’d want us to do. So I just want to say, mom, I miss you.”

Love was the theme yesterday at Cleveland’s Public Auditorium downtown as a crowd of thousands, sometimes joyful, sometimes somber, bid farewell to Cleveland’s lifelong friend and warrior.

By 8 a.m., when the doors opened, there were at least 200 people in line, waiting to pay their respects and file into the auditorium, which was cordoned off into sections for federal dignitaries, family, staff and clergy, among others.

Those gathered represented every type of Clevelander, from those dressed in their Sunday best to students in jeans and flip-flops to mothers pushing their children in strollers. Tubbs Jones’ Delta Sigma Theta sisters adorned in red dotted the crowd.

Groundbreaking in so many ways, the congresswoman was known for fiercely loving those close to her, who came from across the country to honor their friend. Among those speaking were Governor Ted Strickland, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan, Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) and Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.), Tubbs Jones’ congressional predecessor Louis Stokes, former President Bill Clinton and his wife Sen. Hillary Clinton and newly nominated Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama.

Each relayed tales of how the congresswoman touched and improved their lives.

“Stephanie became an even better friend to me over the past many months, as she did to my husband and my daughter. Now her friendship was not uncritical, when she was your friend, she felt it her responsibility to inform you of all the matters that needed improvement,” Hillary Clinton said. “And she traveled with me often, she traveled with my husband, sometimes separately, and was one of the few people that actually defeated him in cards, for which I was very grateful to her.”

Strickland discussed the impact Tubbs Jones had on both Ohio and the nation, calling her “not a symbol of progress but a source of progress.”

“Stephanie’s works will follow her and they will follow us because the doors she opened will never close,” Strickland said.

Tubbs Jones’ legacy:

&bull Bachelor of Arts in social work and Juris Doctorate degrees from Case Western

&bull Lifetime member of Bethany Baptist Church in Cleveland and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated

&bull First black woman to sit on the Common Pleas Court of the State of Ohio

&bull First black and first woman to be Cuyahoga County Prosecutor

&bull Chairwoman of the House Ethics Committee and member of the Ways and Means Committee

The memorial service became political at time, with Kilpatrick calling on the audience to honor her dear friend by electing Obama. A standing ovation greeted her plea and every mention of Obama throughout the service, with some in the crowd in tears.

At some points, people grumbled that the funeral shouldn’t become a political event, but for the most part, they seemed glad that so many important people came to remember their friend and congresswoman.

Obama gave a short speech himself, remembering Tubbs Jones as someone who “just set her sites and steeled her will to the task at hand.”

“Now that’s she’s gone, we still have work to do,” Obama said.

Ernstine Davis, a special educator at Heritage Middle School in East Cleveland and a 1997 Kent State graduate, said she wasn’t concerned that the focus of the funeral would be clouded by the presence of so many politicians because Tubbs Jones “was a people person and this is the people’s forum,” she said.

“She helped you as a person to understand politics even if you weren’t politically savvy,” said Davis, who went on to get her doctorate in education after leaving Kent State.

Davis attends Greater Abyssinia Missionary Baptist Church, across the street from Bethany Baptist, where Tubbs Jones was a lifelong member. She said the congresswoman would visit sometimes, and while she never got to meet her, she witnessed firsthand the kind of hope the Tubbs Jones brought into a room.

“She had this spirit about her, this presence about her. She had this electricity, this commitment. You just couldn’t believe her enthusiasm,” Davis said. “She carried the weight of the world like it was a feather.”

Because she is an educator, Davis said she will tell her students about what Tubbs Jones did for Cleveland and how she never abandoned her roots. “Young people do not fully understand what she did for this city, for this nation,” she added.

Davis said the city will never be able to replace Tubbs Jones and what she meant for Cleveland.

“We believed in her because she believed in us.”

Contact metro editor Theresa Bruskin at [email protected].