Last week I had the honor of attending the unveiling of the official portrait of Virginia’s first ever in its 404 years of history woman Speaker of the House, the Honorable Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn. In addition to being the first woman Speaker of the House of Delegates, having served from 2020 to 2022, she was the first person of Jewish faith to be sworn in as Speaker.
As is the tradition in the House of Delegates, a person who serves as Speaker has an official portrait painted and hung in the House Chamber. The portraits of the two most recent Speakers hang in the front of the Chamber, and the portraits of the dozen or so of their successors hang on the other walls of the Chamber.
The Speaker is elected from the majority party members of the House and serves while still elected to the House with the support of the majority party. In my 44 years in the House of Delegates I served under eight different Speakers, four Democrats and four Republicans counting the current Speaker.
In being chosen the first woman Speaker of the House of Delegates and the first person of the Jewish faith, it is my opinion and I believe the opinion of others who follow Virginia history and government that she provided critical leadership to the Commonwealth during its most consequential time. More progress was made under her speakership in two years than under any of her predecessors who served for longer periods of time. Virginia made more progress on vital issues than at any time in its history, moving from being backward on many issues to a leader among the states.
During her tenure, the House made record investments in public education and transportation, made communities safer from gun violence, supported working families, expanded reproductive freedom, ended discrimination in many forms, secured voting rights that can serve as an example for other states, protected the environment, kept Virginia the top state for business in the nation, appointed the first Black women to be committee chairs in the House, and much more. She set a model that future Speakers should attempt to follow.
Former Speaker Filler-Corn’s official portrait was painted by internationally acclaimed realist artist Kathy Morris whose work has been featured throughout the world. Deaf from an early age, the artist attributes her hearing loss with her increased visual perception, sensitivity, and insights that are obvious in her paintings.
In her remarks at the unveiling of her portrait, the former Speaker said words that will be repeated many times at Women’s History Month and on many other occasions:
“This portrait represents the thousands of women and others who were told they didn’t look the part or have the right background, faith, skin color, gender identity or sexual orientation to be where they deserve to be. Today in the Virginia House of Delegates, we say you belong. My portrait might be the first, but I know there will be many more to follow.”