She would come into a room, large or small, like a force of nature. Tall, big-boned, imposing, Ellen Malcolm could dominate a ballroom full of political stars with her energy, explosions of intensity, and a voice that could shake the rafters.
She could be soft, too, and attentive, and she was, by any measure, a powerhouse in a major stream of Democratic Party politics – she was the mover and shaker, the engine and motor, that helped carry pro-choice female Democratic candidates to victory time and again.
With that rather silly name she gave to her organization, EMILY's List (the cumbersome all-caps title and obscure meaning), Malcolm crisscrossed the country tirelessly to build a huge network of donors and activists that in the 2008 campaign cycle alone raised more than $43 million for female candidates from its 100,000-plus members.
So it was a surprise today, at least to those who knew her only from a distance, to learn that Ellen R. Malcolm
, 62 years old, founder and president of one of the most successful feminist organizations, a political fund-raising movement that has propelled hundreds of female candidates into office, is retiring as its president after 25 years at the helm.
Malcolm will be succeeded by Stephanie Schriock, 36, the chief of staff to Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, who has been celebrated as a rising star in the Democratic Party. Though Malcolm will remain involved as chairwoman, Schriock will handle the daily management of the group's nationwide network of donors and activists and its strategy operations.
The change represents a generational shift for EMILY's List, which emerged out of the women's movement in 1985 and scored some of its biggest initial successes in the 1990s, during the Clinton years.
"Stephanie Schriock brings not only the experience and dedication we were looking for, but she also comes with a burning passion to help elect pro-choice Democratic women candidates to office,'' Malcolm said in a press release.
Since its founding in 1985, EMILY's List
(an acronym for "early money is like yeast -- it makes the dough rise") has helped elect 80 women to the U.S. House, 15 to the U.S. Senate, nine governors and hundreds of state and local officials. Their photos line the walls of EMILY's List headquarters in downtown Washington.
It was there that I met Malcolm in 1994, when I was doing a piece on powerful women in Washington for Vanity Fair. The first thing I noticed about her was, of course, her physical presence, her height and the space she consumes. She talked intently, persuasively, sucking in the air in the room and captivating with her solid no-nonsense manner. She had a great laugh, a cackle that came from deep and spread through the room. She was, whether you agreed with her or not, likeable and fierce.
In the past 25 years she stood shoulder-to-shoulder alongside the presidents of the National Organization for Women, the Feminist Majority and other liberal women's groups. One expects she will keep her hand in, somehow.
Now, having created and sustained a history-making organization, she can expect to spend more time in her desert home in Arizona while remaining a formidable figure in Washington politics.