Paula Hawkins:Mormon Politician

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Paula Hawkins Mormon Senator

Paula Hawkins was a single-term U.S. Senator from Florida. Throughout her life, she was a devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Hawkins was born on January 24, 1927, in Salt Lake City, the eldest of three children born to Paul and Leone Fickes. Her father’s work sent them to Atlanta, Georgia. When her parents divorced, her mother took the children back to Utah, and Hawkins finished high school in Richmond, Utah. While she attended Utah State University, she met her husband, Walter Eugene Hawkins. They married on September 5, 1947, and moved to Atlanta, where her husband earned a degree in electrical engineering. They had three children and then moved to Winter Park, Florida.

In Florida, Hawkins became a community activist and Republican volunteer. Her political career was marked by several firsts: She became the first woman elected to statewide office in Florida when she won a seat on the Florida Public Service Commission (1972–1979); she was the first woman elected to a full senate term without being preceded in politics by a husband or father; she was Florida’s first woman elected to the U.S. Senate; and she was the first woman to bring her husband to Washington, D.C. with her.

She was unsuccessful in her bid for the Republican nomination for the Senate in 1974. She also lost her 1978 bid for Florida’s Lieutenant Governor office. In 1980 she won the election for the U.S. Senate. She took office two days early because of the resignation of Richard B. Stone.

For many years, Hawkins suffered from a back injury she sustained in a car accident. This injury was aggravated when a studio partition fell on her during a 1982 television interview. During her 1986 re-election year, she underwent surgery and her recuperation hindered her campaign. She was not re-elected.

In 1984, Hawkins revealed that she had been the victim of sexual abuse as a child. Child welfare was one of the focuses of her Senate career. She was a key figure in advocating and passing the 1982 Missing Children’s Act. Prior to this legislation, parents had been required to wait 48 hours before the federal officials could become involved in the search for a missing child. Her bill abolished the waiting period. It also gave parents access to an FBI database, the National Crime Information Center, where they could list their child and perform searches through records of existing reports. In 1983 she chaired the Investigation and Oversight Subcommittee of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, where she launched an investigation of the increase of children reported missing. After her term of office, she authored Children at Risk, My Fight Against Child Abuse: A Personal Story and a Public Plea (1986).

She described herself as “feminine” rather than “feminist” and fought for legislation to help stay-at-home women enter the job market after being widowed or divorced and to take into account years spent at home raising children when calculating women’s pension benefits.

She was a member of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships in 1975, director of the Rural Telephone Bank Board from 1972 to 1978, and vice president of Air Florida from 1979 to 1980. In 1988 she was named a director of Philip Crosby Associates. For seven years after her service in the Senate, she was U.S. representative to the Organization of American States Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission. She joined the board of Nu Skin Enterprises in 1997.

She suffered a stroke in 1998, which left her paralyzed on her right side. She died on December 4, 2009, from complications after a fall.