ella t. grasso

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - BY ROSA L. DELAURO Twit­ter: @rosade­lauro Rosa L. DeLauro rep­re­sents Con­necti­cut’s 3rd Con­gres­sional Dis­trict in the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Ella Tam­bussi Grasso was not only Con­necti­cut’s first fe­male gover­nor. She was also its first Ital­ian Amer­i­can chief ex­ec­u­tive. Her roots and her strong Ital­ian fam­ily un­der­girded her ca­reer. Both of Grasso’s par­ents moved from Genoa to Wind­sor Locks, Conn., where her fa­ther be­came a baker and her mother worked in a mill. Nei­ther had much ed­u­ca­tion be­yond ele­men­tary school, but they be­lieved in life­long learn­ing. They saved and sac­ri­ficed to send their pre­co­cious daugh­ter first to pri­vate schools and then to Mount Holyoke Col­lege, where she grad­u­ated magna cum­laude in 1940.

Grasso in­her­ited another Ital­ian Amer­i­can trait: a com­mit­ment to her com­mu­nity. As Con­necti­cut’s sec­re­tary of state from 1958 to 1970, she trans­formed her of­fice into a “peo­ple’s lobby,” open­ing her doors for cit­i­zens to air griev­ances or seek ad­vice. Dur­ing her two terms in the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the 1970s, Grasso cham­pi­oned the min­i­mum wage, So­cial Se­cu­rity and vet­er­ans’ ed­u­ca­tion ben­e­fits, and es­tab­lished a toll-free num­ber — nick­named the “El­la­phone” — to al­low con­stituents to con­tact her of­fice more easily.

“Bloom where you are planted” was among her fa­vorite say­ings, and soon she re­turned to Con­necti­cut to cam­paign for the gov­er­nor­ship. Once again, she showed a clas­si­cally Ital­ian Amer­i­can work ethic. Fac­ing a tough fis­cal en­vi­ron­ment, she re­turned thou­sands of dol­lars to the state trea­sury out of her own salary. Dur­ing the great bliz­zard of 1978, she worked around the clock to di­rect the emer­gency re­sponse and save lives. Later that year, she won re­elec­tion in a land­slide.

In 1981, Grasso died of ovar­ian can­cer, a vi­cious dis­ease that I my­self faced just a few years later. But she car­ried on work­ing for the peo­ple of Con­necti­cut un­til just a month be­fore her death.

When I think of what is pos­si­ble for Ital­ians and for women, I al­ways think of Ella Grasso. She led our state with an Ital­ian Amer­i­can blend of pas­sion, hard work and prag­ma­tism. These are the kinds of traits that al­lowed Nancy Pelosi to be­come the first fe­male, and in­deed the first Ital­ian Amer­i­can, speaker of the House. Grasso was a trail­blazer for all of us.

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