To celebrate Women’s History Month, the House of Delegates honors Maryland women who have made historic gains. On Wednesday, Delegate Kathy Szeliga honored the achievements of Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey. The text of her speech is below.
Today I would like to tell you about a daughter of Maryland who has achieved so much, both for us as Maryland women in leadership, and for women worldwide. She exemplifies an outspoken and fearless leader—one who shows us that there is no seat we cannot fill, no disappointment we cannot overcome.
Ellen Sauerbrey was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Western Maryland College, who honored her in 1988 as Alumnus of the Year. After college, Ellen worked tirelessly as a biology teacher and eventually became chair of the science department for Baltimore County Public Schools. Yet Ellen, being the dedicated public servant that she is, felt she could still do more. In 1978, Ellen was elected to our own House of Delegates, where she served faithfully for the next 16 years. Her confident approach to fiscal policy dramatically curbed the growth of state spending, which allowed Maryland local business growth—who had formerly been strangled by excessive state taxes—to thrive once again.
During Ellen’s sixteen years in this very chamber, her hardline convictions and gutsy policies led her to be elected House Minority Leader in 1986—a position she held for eight years until she handed in her resignation in order to run for governor in 1994. Ellen almost became the first female Governor of Maryland—but, due to a late and polar vote count from a single district, was defeated. Yet like a phoenix, Ellen Sauerbrey rose from the ashes of the heartbreaking loss of the governorship in 1994. In the words of Ellen herself, God had different plans for her.
In 1996, she was elected Republican National Committeewoman for Maryland and as an expert in economic, budget, and fiscal issues, eager to discuss issues from tax reform to criminal justice—and it turned out someone was listening. In 2001, Ellen was nominated by none other than President George W. Bush to serve as U.S. Representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and was appointed Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration in 2006. There was some concern about her lack of international experience for the position, but Ellen proved it totally unfounded.
With the help of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Ellen managed a budget of approximately 2 billion dollars allotted to improving the positions of women worldwide. Using her position, Ellen Sauerbrey became a pioneer for the rights of women—single-handedly negotiating U.S-sponsored United Nations Resolution 1325. This resolution transformed the socioeconomic status of millions of women by mandating equal participation by integrating them into every step of the political process. She used the skills gained from her own leadership experiences as a guide—encouraging millions of women in emerging democracies to fight for their own personal and economic freedom. In her words, “The best way to learn is by doing; never ask others to do what you’re not willing to do yourself.”
Ellen Sauerbrey shows us that anything is possible through determination and hard work, even if God’s plan for us is different than our own. A true leader, she adapted and thrived—all while defending the rights of those she had been appointed to protect. We celebrate her legacy today by facing the future with bravery—and accepting that we can do good wherever we are planted.
Ellen just celebrated her 80th birthday in September with her husband of 59 years, Wilmer Sauerbrey. Even today, she is still one of Maryland’s most influential female leaders and I am deeply honored to call her a friend.