Republican Paula Hawkins, the only woman from Florida to serve in the Senate and the first woman elected to a full Senate term without family ties, died on Dec. 4, just a few weeks short of her 83rd birthday.
[IMGCAP(1)]Hawkins had been the first woman elected statewide as a member of the Public Service Commission, at a time when Republicans were struggling in Florida. She came to the Senate on her second try as Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency. (Among her 1980 campaign staff were current Florida GOP Rep. John Mica, former lobbyist Charlie Black and political consultant Dick Morris.)
Hawkins made her name in her one term in the Senate. At a conference in 1984, she unexpectedly confessed that a neighbor had sexually abused her as a child but had not been convicted in court. The revelation attracted national attention and gave the Senator more credibility in her role as chairwoman of the Labor and Human Resources Subcommittee on Children, Family, Drugs and Alcoholism.
“Almost immediately, many other child abuse victims felt free to discuss their own difficult experiences,— she recalled in her autobiography, according to the House historian’s office. “After all, if a U.S. Senator had opened up, why shouldn’t they?—
A mother of three, Hawkins was best known for her work on behalf of children, including the 1982 Missing Children Act. She also wrote “Children at Risk: My Fight Against Child Abuse — A Personal Story and a Public Plea— in 1986. One of the Senate’s few women during her term, she provided a conservative voice on issues such as abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment.
Mica, who served as Hawkins’ chief of staff from 1981 to 1985, remembered that she was no shrinking violet.
“She makes Barbara Mikulski look timid,— he recalled. “She’d use a combination of charm but aggressiveness, whether it was with Reagan or whether it was with any of the Senators. And she’d get her way.—
Hawkins also worked against drug trafficking as founder of the Senate Drug Enforcement Caucus. When she lost re-election to then-Gov. Bob Graham (D) in 1986, she returned to Florida and became a representative for the United States on the Organization of American States Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission. After that she returned to the private sector and eventually retired after suffering a stroke.
The former Senator was born in Salt Lake City on Jan. 24, 1927, and attended Utah State University. Her husband, three children, 11 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren survive her.