|LEADERSHIP | fall 2005
President Kim Gandy gears up for another four years at NOW’s helm.
Pulling herself out from under the covers around lunchtime, on a Saturday spent at home instead of on the road, National Organization for Women president Kim Gandy casts a motherly eye on the photo album her two daughters have assembled. But she’s also thinking ahead to the email alert she will later launch over the NOW listserv, telling readers how “incredibly dangerous” Supreme Court nominee John Roberts would be “on women’s rights, civil rights [and] individual rights.”
A lawyer by training and veteran NOW organizer by preference, Gandy, 51, won reelection in July to a second and final four-year term (NOW bylaws preclude a third) leading the 39-year-old women’s-rights group.
She first set out on her feminist path at about age 13, declaring to her homemaker mom and banker dad that she would buck conventions of the Deep South and head to college. A girl verging on womanhood in Bossier City, La., Gandy’s hometown, was pretty much expected to simply swap her parents’ household for the one she would create with a husband. Gandy followed that script in part, taking as her first husband a schoolmate at Louisiana Tech University. She was just 18. Soon afterward, though, she stumbled upon a Louisiana law granting husbands control of their wives’ paychecks, which is all the prodding she needed to join NOW. And seven years into the marriage, Gandy got a divorce. A math degree from Tech in hand, she went on to earn a law degree from Loyola University in New Orleans, work in the New Orleans district attorney’s office and then establish a general practice in the bayou city. She also volunteered her services to Louisiana NOW, which, at the time, had no lawyers of its own. Later, noticing Gandy’s zeal, former NOW president Molly Yard persuaded her to run for secretary/treasurer on Yard’s winning 1987 national slate, and from there Gandy continued moving up the ranks.
NOW has a broad-ranging agenda under Gandy, lining up against privatizing Social Security and for expanded voting rights, paid family leave for men and women, and gay marriage. Out of her first presidential tenure came the two-year-old National NOW Young Feminist Task Force, which has produced a bevy of under-30 women who are state and local chapter officers—as well as 29-year-old African American New Yorker Latifa Lyles who, along with Melody Drnach, a 40-something white woman from Rhode Island, is one of Gandy’s two newly elected vice presidents. Also on the summer’s slate was Gandy’s 50-something Cuban-born second-in-command, Olga Vives. “It’s important to say that we are everyone,” Gandy says.
Her spouse of 15 years, Christopher “Kip” Lornell, a Georgetown University professor, holds down the home front while Gandy fulfills her frenetic schedule. “[He’s] not babysitting, he’s 100 percent co-parent,” she says. Running an egalitarian household meant that 12-year-old Elizabeth Cady Lornell would take her dad’s surname and 10-year-old Katherine Eleanor Gandy her mother’s. The girls—named, respectively, for the suffragist and for both first lady Roosevelt and former NOW president Eleanor Smeal—already wonder
what mom will do when the NOW presidency ends in 2009.
“I said to my 12-year-old, ‘Honey, at that time you will be 16 and I will stay at home and devote myself entirely to you,’” Gandy says. “She stared at me a few seconds and just said, ‘No, really.’”
Katti Gray is a features writer and columnist for Newsday.