Remembering Elsbeth Bothe, 1927-2013

Elsbeth BotheThe Institute for Policy Studies has lost a dear friend and longtime board member, Elsbeth Bothe. For close to two decades, Elsbeth was an extremely active member of the IPS board of trustees. As a former defense lawyer, Maryland ACLU President, and Baltimore City Circuit Judge, she contributed her strong legal knowledge and no-nonsense approach to any problems at the Institute. She died peacefully in her sleep at her Baltimore home on February 27.

Fourteen years ago, IPS Fellow Saul Landau and IPS associate Scott Armstrong and others helped set up a baseball game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Cuban national team in Baltimore. IPS rented a bus and brought lots of IPS friends to Elsbeth’s home for a party and then to the game. She loved being part of baseball diplomacy and she threw a great party. She hosted Phyllis Bennis, Marc Raskin, and me again in 2003 on the eve of U.S. war against Iraq for a conversation with her friends on how to stop the war.

When Elsbeth and fellow trustee Sissy Farenthold turned 80, IPS board chair Ethelbert Miller

interviewed them both at Andy Shallal’s home about what it was like to break into the legal profession as a woman back when men dominated that world. And, more recently, IPS Associate Fellow Ron Carver filmed Elsbeth for a short piece he did on dog lovers against Romney. Hilarious.

For close to 20 years, this woman brought her special brand of insights and living and social justice into IPS, and she contributed generously, and IPS is much the better for it.

— John Cavanagh, IPS Director

Tributes from IPS staff, board, and friends:

Remembering Elsbeth Bothe, 1927-2013“Elsbeth rose to power and used it to mitigate unjust laws. That alone is a great legacy, but she had so much more to offer. We will miss our friend.” — Sanho Tree, IPS Drug Policy Project

“Elsbeth was special. With rasping voice, twinkle in eye, she had more energy from her motorized chair than captains on their bridges, more wisdom in a bite of wit than pundits in their drone. She sought justice. She expected bold and fearless. No better guide for these times.” — Robert

Borosage, IPS board member and former director

“Elsbeth was a force — and a rare one. As is always the case, I suppose her extraordinary character — her wit, her edginess — so much ahead of her time — was as much something she was born with as it was a result of her being born into a particular time. But what a powerful character, and powerful fighter she was. It’s a huge loss for all of us, and for IPS as an institution as well.” — Phyllis Bennis, IPS New Internationalism Project

“Elsbeth’s toughness as a judge, her brashness, her ability to play with and intimidate the hell out of the male attorneys who came in front of her while she was on the bench, her driving on city streets as if she were on an Indie 500 track, her coarse and wonderful humor…that is all at one with a number of women of her age who had the drive to break into areas women had never gone before. Her ability to meld that with care and concern for close friends and those harmed by outrageous policies of our government and even more outrageous corporate abuse…what a gal.” — Ron Carver, IPS Associate Fellow

“Elsbeth’s wry comments were always a tonic. I think she was a role model for growing old gracefully and lucidly.” — Barbara Ehrenreich, IPS board member

Elsbeth Bothe

“Memories of Elsbeth: Receiving, together, an education in the futility and cruelty of Uncle Sam’s unending grudge during a first visit to Cuba; luxuriating in her stop the obfuscation comments at IPS board meetings; hanging out at her house amidst her John Waters mediated skull collection augmented by one found by me and Saul in Bisbee; being schooled by the judge on the limited utility of criminal sanctions; discovering the delights of the melding of crustiness and warmth.” — Marvin Stender, IPS board member

“Elsbeth was a beloved Board Member. Each time she was in the room, be it for a meeting, an event or a celebration, she had a story from her past that would inspire anyone, but especially a woman of a generation younger who stood on her strong shoulders. She was a pioneer in her field and we benefited from her rich experience, a bold life.” — Karen Dolan, IPS Fellow

For Elsbeth
(A poem by IPS Fellow Saul Landau)

who didn’t hurt others
She loved the law
the part that dealt
with out of court
justice Palestinians women Indians
born at the bottom
unable to rise into
comforts she judged necessary

She had friends family
a skull filled house
fulfilled her obligations studied
politics projected her thoughts
wheezing skepticism emitting puns
dropping sarcasms unique spirit

didn’t complain when
I gave her a
skull for her collection
she must have been
a hot babe then
not a whiner an
enjoyer loyal wise generous
She’ll be much missed