That's what Helen Chenoweth-Hage told a room full of 5th-grade Sunday schoolers they could call her for short (long before the hyphen Hage). So we did.
Idaho's iconic former congressman died last night in a car crash. The words "politics," "salmon" and "ultra-conservative" will pop into many people's heads when her name is mentioned today. For me, the words will be: strength, nurturing, kindness, role model, Sunday school teacher, church goer, camp counselor, warmth, and family friend.
Since she was elected to Congress in the mid-'90s, it's been odd (to say the least) to hear Helen talked about by acquaintances of mine who were strangers to her -- people who knew the politician, but not the woman. For me and my family, the latter always held much more meaning than the former. She was a picture of determination and grace, possessing that rare symbiosis of toughness and tenderness. And she is the kindest, most genuine soul you could ever meet.
Political critics and opponents of Helen had no choice but to admire her tenacity and follow-through. And even journalists like Dan Popkey couldn't crush her spirit or muffle the support of her fans when her personal mistakes were put on public display. She handled even the most difficult situations the only way she knew how: with class.
"Class" indeed. And she was in one all her own. Even if Helen had never been a public figure, I would have felt extremely privileged to share part of my life with her ... to have her come into the bunk room with her "I'm a Morning Person" nightshirt and wake up to her tickling my toes, saying, "Time to get up, joyful!" ... to get the warmest hug imaginable after my high school graduation ... and to know this beautiful, intelligent tower of strength had a knowing smile just for me.
Today she is with her Maker once again, and closer than ever to her late husband. Here on earth remain a family she helped make strong and a sea of loving friends. Even after every political and public act is stripped away, you see the legacy Helen left -- independent woman, devoted mother, faithful Christian, generous friend, caring citizen, Mrs. C.