John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Race for the Cure?

Posted on February 2, 2012

“Come on John.  You are coming with me.”

The raspy voice belonged to Corinne Michel, the wife of House Minority Leader Robert Michel, and probably one of the nicest people of I have ever met.

Mrs. Michel, an avid smoker, had a wry sense of humor and very level head.  The mother of four grown (and successful kids) and the wife of one of the most powerful men in Washington, Corinne could spot bullshit from a mile away.

I think she was getting a kick out of taking me out of the Capitol building and bringing me to my first (and so far in my life my only) visit to the Vice President’s residence.

I wasn’t exactly clear why we were going, but it had something to do with a woman from Peoria who died of breast cancer.  We arrived at the residence, and I walked into a nicely appointed room filled with very imposing and somewhat intimidating group of professional women.

I was the only man in the room.  Mrs. Michel smiled and introduced me to the Vice President’s wife.  “Hello Marilyn,” she said, “This is John Feehery.”  I shook her hand and Marilyn Quayle smiled.   “He’s one of our top interns.”   The smile disappeared and Quayle abruptly turned away and talked to somebody else.

Mrs. Michel laughed.  I thought to myself about Mrs. Quayle, “what a bitch,” but, of course,  I didn’t say anything.

Gathered together were the power ladies of Washington, and they were busy organizing a 5k race to raise money for the Susan Komen Foundation.  Komen was from Peoria, and she had been diagnosed with cancer at age 33 and died at age 36, far too young to be taken from the earth.

Komen’s sister, Nancy Brinker, had promised that she would do everything she could to find a cure for breast cancer, and Brinker believed that by having a road race on Pennsylvania Avenue, which included celebrities like Marilyn Quayle and the Vice President, it could draw more awareness to the foundation and to the disease.

Brinker had started the foundation in Dallas 7 years before, and had been successful there, but wanted to take the show on the road.  Washington was an important place to expand the race to, and I have been invited by Mrs. Michel to participate in the planning meeting to make the Washington D.C. race successful.

When you are a 25-year-old guy surrounded by a bunch of power women dressed in power suits, talking about their power relationships, and flaunting their power rings, you keep your mouth shut.  And that is exactly what I did.

23 years later, the Susan Komen foundation is ubiquitous.  It runs ads on television to help raise money.  It has races, walks, bike rides and a bunch of other programs.   And apparently it has been so successful in raising money; it can give some of that money away to other organizations.

One group that apparently used to get money from the Susan Komen Foundation is Planned Parenthood.  Those donations have stopped this week, and it has caused quite a stink with a bunch of women who fervently believe in the right to have an abortion.

I, for the life of me, don’t understand what Planned Parenthood has to do with the original purpose of the Susan Komen Foundation, which I thought was to find a cure for breast cancer.

But I am not going to wade into that fight.  That lesson I learned about keeping my mouth shut at the original Washington meeting of the Komen Foundation when a bunch of powerful women are engaged in a conversation, has stayed with me.

I would say that how the Foundation handled both the announcement and then the subsequent controversy is a perfect example of how not to do crisis communications.  It seems that if a huge percentage of your most active participants and fundraisers are pro-choice females, you might want to be careful on how you announce a plan to cut off funding with Planned Parenthood.

They weren’t that careful and now they are facing heat from their biggest supporters.

As it usually goes in Washington, we now have a partisan fight on a subject that should united just about everybody.   And that is pretty sad.

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