Doris "Granny D" Haddock was tiny by any measure of physical stature but a giant in civic terms. Her passing at the age of 100 has made international news, I suppose mostly because of the amazing story of her walk across America a decade or so ago. But Granny was so much more than the sum total of that remarkable trek. She was a great many things, foremost among them an unforgettably powerful example of the difference one person can make.
Granny made at least four trips to Wisconsin that I know of after her legendary journey across the country, to give speeches and network and campaign. In between her visits, I would get an occasional e-mail from Doris and an even more occasional phone call, although her faithful assistant Ruth was in much more regular contact. Considering how well Granny D was known and how much in demand she was across the nation and indeed throughout the world, especially after a movie about her life reached an international audience, my mind always reeled at the thought of how many reform advocates like me she must have been keeping in touch with in places scattered across the globe. Her boundless energy in her 10th decade of life was both inspiring and humbling, to say the least.
Most every time I talked to Doris she apologized to me about something, usually her inability to plan too far into the future or commit too far in advance to participate in this event or that. More than once she joked that "at my age, I don't even buy green bananas at the grocery store."
One thing she never apologized for was her contempt for corrupt politicians and the wealthy interests that own them. She could never be accused of failing to speak her mind. She had lived too long to bite her tongue. Her words had a bite to them, though. I'll never forget back in 2006 when she came and spoke at the "public telling" we decided to hold when state lawmakers here were refusing to hold public hearings on proposed reforms. In her signature New Hampshire accent, she said "If you are reformers, get the job done or go home."
Her remarks were ostensibly aimed at Wisconsin legislators, but I couldn't help but take her words to heart too. Granny D lit a fire under people. I felt that flame every time she was near.
The last time I asked Doris to come to Wisconsin was last September. She initially contacted me to say she appreciated the invitation and was excited to make another visit to our state, but called back several weeks later to apologize. She just didn't feel up to making the trip.
It goes without saying that no apology was necessary. We owed her a lot more than she owed us.