Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Nation/World

Pat Schroeder, a pioneering female member of Congress, dies. She was 82

March 14, 2023 Updated Tue., March 14, 2023 at 9:03 p.m.

Pat Schroeder, a Colorado congresswoman, presidential candidate and longtime Central Florida resident, has died at the age of 82.  (Orlando Sentinel/TNS)
Pat Schroeder, a Colorado congresswoman, presidential candidate and longtime Central Florida resident, has died at the age of 82. (Orlando Sentinel/TNS)
By Steven Lemongello Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. – Pat Schroeder, a Colorado congresswoman, presidential candidate and longtime Central Florida resident, died Monday. She was 82.

Schroeder suffered a stroke and had been placed in hospice care at her home in Celebration, former Orange County Mayor Linda Chapin said. Her daughter, Jamie Cornish, confirmed her death Monday in an email to the New York Times.

“She was like a beacon,” said Susannah Randolph, a Democratic operative and one-time congressional candidate. “… When I was growing up in the ‘80s, she was my bedtime story. She was the woman I grew up understanding was the one fighting for all of us.”

Chapin said Schroeder “not only had a great deal of influence over the women of one generation but of three generations. Her grandkids, her granddaughters, my granddaughters are out there protesting when it’s important.”

Schroeder, who represented the Denver area in Congress for 24 years, moved to Celebration in 2008 after her retirement from her post-political job as president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers.

She quickly became a keystone of the Central Florida political community, taking younger Democrats under her wing and advising local officials.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, first met Schroeder at a Women’s Equality Day March at the University of Central Florida in 2010 and called her “one of my biggest cheerleaders.”

“I feel so blessed that she came to call Central Florida home,” Eskamani said. “And I got to learn so much from her when it comes to public service, and just being a woman in politics.”

Despite her retirement, Randolph said, Schroeder “mentored, she counseled, she was active, she took on causes, and she was still as big of a figure and influential figure here as she ever was. Even after having a career that most people would dream of.”

Schroeder, born Patricia Scott in Portland, Oregon, moved to Iowa as a child and graduated from the University of Minnesota and Harvard Law School.

“Nobody wanted us there,” Schroeder said of Harvard Law during an interview with the Orlando Sentinel in 2020. “The men would tell us, ‘Don’t you know you’re taking a spot from a man?’”

Schroeder and her husband, Jim, moved to Denver in the mid-1960s, where she worked for National Labor Relations Board, Planned Parenthood and as a public school teacher before successfully running for Congress in 1972 at age 32. She was the state’s first female member of Congress.

“There was resistance to women in the early days of her service in Congress,” Chapin said. “And she overcame them very often, by just a display of good humor.”

“I have a brain and a uterus, and I use them both,” she responded when one male lawmaker questioned how she could be a wife, mother and congresswoman.

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, who said he spoke with Schroeder frequently, said Schroeder was “a champion of children and families.”

“She was one of the few women in Congress at the time and was elected at a very young age,” Soto said. “It’s a testament to as Congress gets more diverse, more perspectives are considered and it makes a big difference in our way of life.”

Schroeder, a working mother who would bring diapers to the floor of Congress, pushed for the Family Medical Leave Act in 1993, which allows workers to take unpaid leave after having a child, and the Military Family Act in 1985, which helped service members, spouses and children adjust to military life.

She also served as the only woman on the House Armed Services Committee.

“When men talk about defense, they always claim to be protecting women and children, but they never ask the women and children what they think,” she once said.

In 1987, she chaired the presidential campaign for U.S. Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo. But when Hart dropped out following a sex scandal, Schroeder jumped into the race herself.

Asked by reporters why she was running “as a woman,” she responded, “What choice do I have?”

She ultimately withdrew in September 1987, saying she “could not figure out how to run and not be separated from those I serve. … For people who wanted to change my style, I’m sorry. I’m me, what can I do?”

While her bid for president has been described as brief, her campaign lasted longer than that of then-U.S. Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware who dropped out the week before.

In withdrawing, she held what the New York Times called “an emotional press conference.” Schroeder later told USA Today she still received hate mail, including from many women, for her tears that day.

“It’s like I ruined their lives, 20 years ago, with three seconds of catching my breath,” Schroeder said. “… Guys have been tearing up all along, and people think it’s marvelous.”

After retiring to Florida, Schroeder was outspoken on local issues, including backing a living wage proposal in Osceola County that failed in 2015.

“I’m so embarrassed to see articles all about Osceola and the area being high in tourism but very low, 50th out of 50 [major metros],” she said at the time. “This is about human dignity, that’s what this is about.”

Schroeder did not back away from a good fight, Chapin said. She often just went looking for one.

“She would go down to the coffee shop in the morning in Celebration and debate with those of other [political] persuasions,” Chapin said. “Pat was always willing to be good-humored and discuss the issues with anyone. And of course, she was an expert.”

Schroeder was a legend even among national figures. Randolph talked about going with her to an event in Washington in 2015 or so.

“She was long gone from D.C.,” Randolph said. “But I remember we walked into this room in this hotel and all of the women who were senators and representatives, these titan women, were falling all over themselves to get to her, and talk to her, and get her advice. … That’s just how big a deal Pat Schroeder really was.”

Schroeder is survived by her husband, Jim, and their children Scott and Jamie.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.