|United States Senator|
January 1, 1981 - January 3, 1987
January 24, 1927
Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.
|Died||December 4, 2009 (aged 82)|
Winter Park, Florida, U.S.
|Education||Utah State University (BA)|
Paula Fickes Hawkins (January 24, 1927 - December 4, 2009) was an American politician from Florida. She is the only woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Florida. She was the second woman ever elected to the Senate from the South. She was the first woman in the country to be elected to a full Senate term without having a close family member who previously served in major public office.
Hawkins was the eldest of three children born to Paul and Leone Fickes in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her father was a Naval Chief Warrant Officer. In 1934, the family moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where her father taught at Georgia Tech. Her parents split when Paula was in high school, and Leone and the children returned to Utah. She finished high school at Richmond, Utah in 1944, then enrolled at Utah State University. Paula was hired to be the Athletic director's secretary and met her future husband. On September 5, 1947, Paula Fickes and Walter Eugene Hawkins were married and moved to Atlanta. Gene earned a degree in electrical engineering and eventually opened his own business. The couple had three children before moving in 1955 to Winter Park, Florida, where Paula became a community activist and Republican volunteer.
In 1971, Hawkins was the Florida Republican National Committeewoman. She and three Republican members of the state's U.S. House delegation, J. Herbert Burke, Louis Frey, Jr., and C.W. "Bill" Young, prepared a letter to the Nixon White House asking that William C. Cramer, a former representative defeated by Lawton Chiles in the 1970 U.S. Senate election be the Florida patronage advisor, rather than sitting U.S. Senator Edward Gurney. The letter forced Gurney to initiate "peace meetings" with his intraparty rivals, and the letter was never mailed.
Hawkins launched her own electoral career by campaigning as a consumer advocate. In 1972, she became the first woman elected to statewide office in Florida by winning a seat on the Florida Public Service Commission. In 1974, she was an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate. The nomination went to businessman Jack Eckerd, who then lost the general election to the Democrat Richard B. Stone. The seat was vacated by the retiring one-term Republican Edward Gurney, with whom Hawkins and others in the Florida party had quarreled in the past. In 1976, Hawkins was reelected to the Public Services Commission despite the Jimmy Carter victory in Florida over U.S. President Gerald R. Ford, Jr. In 1978, she was the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor on the ticket headed by her former intraparty rival Jack Eckerd. They lost to then-State Senator Bob Graham and State Representative Wayne Mixson. In 1980, she defeated Bill Gunter to win election to the United States Senate; she was Florida's first woman elected to the United States Senate and only fifth from the South.
She was the first woman senator to bring her husband to Washington, D.C., with her. As a result, the Senate Wives' Club became known as the Senate Spouses' Club. She took office two days early because of the resignation of Senator Stone, which allowed her to gain a seniority advantage over the other freshmen senators.
Hawkins was particularly active in the realm of child welfare. She was a key figure in advocating and passing the 1982 Missing Children's Act, and in 1983 chaired the Investigation and Oversight Subcommittee of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, where she launched an investigation of the increase of children reported missing. In 1984 she spoke at the Third National Conference on Sexual Victimization of Children, where she stunned listeners by disclosing that she herself had been the victim of sexual abuse as a child. She subsequently authored, Children at Risk, My Fight Against Child Abuse: A Personal Story and a Public Plea, which was published in 1986.
In 1984, she was co-chairwoman of the platform committee at the RNC.
Senator Hawkins, in 1985, participated in the Record Label Hearings of the Senate's Commerce Committee, where the issue of labeling musical songs was examined, after the PRMC initiative. During the hearings, Hawkins had a notable altercation with testifying musician Frank Zappa, who eventually invited the senator to his home to see first-hand "what kind of toys" his children are playing with.
Hawkins once again faced Bob Graham on a statewide ballot when she campaigned for reelection to the Senate in 1986. She lost, 55 percent to 45 percent.
In 1986, Hawkins lost her re-election bid to then-Governor Bob Graham, and returned to Winter Park in early 1987. She was United States representative to the Organization of American States Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) for 7 years before leaving active politics. She remained involved behind the scenes in central Florida and her endorsement was sought by many candidates. Hawkins was named a director of Philip Crosby Associates in 1988. She joined the board of Nu Skin Enterprises in 1997. She was a life-long member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In a freak accident, a television studio partition toppled and struck her in early January 1982 during an interview at WESH-TV in Winter Park, Florida. While not life-threatening, the mishap aggravated a back injury she suffered years before in an automobile collision and caused constant pain which plagued her during her years in Washington. Senator Strom Thurmond, in his capacity as President pro tempore, gave her the use of a room in the Capitol building for a hospital bed where she found pain relief under weighted traction during breaks between congressional activities.
Hawkins' right side was paralyzed in 1998 as the result of a severe stroke. After this, she used a wheelchair. She stayed active, appearing on October 1, 2009 at the opening ceremony of the Waldorf Astoria Orlando at Walt Disney World. She died on December 4, 2009 from complications of a fall she suffered the previous day. She was survived by her husband and three children.