WASHINGTON – The late Rep. Louise M. Slaughter got her start in politics four decades ago fighting a developer's plans to destroy a grove of trees she could see from her kitchen window in suburban Rochester.
And on Wednesday, Slaughter's colleagues honored her by planting a tree in her name on the grounds of the Capitol.
A month and two days after Slaughter, a Democrat from Fairport, died at the age of 88 after a fall at her Washington home, her colleagues gathered in dazzling sunshine for the first of two Wednesday ceremonies honoring her.
"What a beautiful day for a beautiful person," said Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla.
Long-serving lawmakers of great stature often get honored with a tree on the Capitol grounds. And that certainly describes Slaughter, a liberal stalwart who served in the House for more than 30 years – including a decade in which her district included parts of Buffalo.
During that time, she authored landmark legislation on congressional ethics and genetic discrimination and became the first woman to chair the House Rules Committee, which sets the terms of debate for legislation on the House floor.
Usually the approval process for a new tree on the Capitol grounds takes upwards of a year, but House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi – a Californian Democrat and a close friend of Slaughter's – worked with the architect of the Capitol to speed the process.
"Louise always found a way to get things done," Pelosi said, adding that it was only fitting that her colleagues came to honor her in record time.
Much of Slaughter's family, including her three daughters, attended the early afternoon tree planting. Lawmakers planted an English walnut tree in her honor, just because Slaughter loved walnuts and frequently brought them for her colleagues.
Later in the day, hundreds of lawmakers and former lawmakers gathered with others who worked with Slaughter as well as her family for a formal memorial ceremony at Statuary Hall in the Capitol.
There, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, recalled Slaughter introducing him to her district when he first ran for the Senate in 1998.
"Everyone we met had stories, and some had several, about how Louise made their lives better," Schumer said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan recalled Slaughter as "a one-liner machine" who treated everyone, Democrat and Republican alike, with warmth and respect.
"She had the gift of respecting you, caring about you, while still being so passionate for her principles," Ryan said. "We will miss her very much."
Ryan presented Slaughter's family with a flag that had flown at half mast over the Capitol on March 16, the day she died.
Lawmakers at the earlier ceremony, meanwhile, focused on the living legacy that they planted in her memory just to the southeast of the Capitol.
"Louise got her start fighting for trees just like this one," said Rep. Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat. "I hope it inspires the next generation of Louise Slaughters, because we need them now more than ever."