In Memoriam: Terri Bartlett, Force of Nature Fighting for Women

Terri Bartlett, who passed away unexpectedly this weekend in Tennessee, was a force of nature, bulldozing her
way through bureaucracies, arcane laws and barriers to ensure that the
health and rights of women and their families the world over were safeguarded.
Using her Southern charms, she would cajole high level policymakers into
understanding her worldview of equity and parity. While others would write
white papers or deliver keynote speeches, Terri would instead bat her eyelashes,
exaggerate her Tennessee drawl and lay out arguments that were difficult
to combat. Standing just about five feet tall and with an impish, beautiful
face, Terri was the very embodiment of a "steel magnolia."
Terri BartlettTerri Bartlett

Terri Lee Bartlett was a native
of Tennessee and a graduate of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville,
and a Fellow of the Institute of Politics, Loyola University in New Orleans,
Louisiana. She began living her ideals right out of
college – working as the Director of Volunteers for Planned Parenthood
Association of Nashville. Soon, she worked her way up to Executive
Director of the Tennessee Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates,
a statewide advocacy organization. She later founded Planned Parenthood
of Louisiana and served for more than a decade as its CEO and President.

After so many years of working
to improve the lives of women in the U.S., Terri chose to use her considerable
skills to guarantee sexual and reproductive health and rights for women
and their families in the developing world. She joined Population Action
International (PAI) in 1999 as Vice President for Public Policy and Strategic
Initiatives. In the eight years that she held this position, Terri Bartlett
directed the organization’s domestic and international policy agenda.
She became a regular fixture in the halls of Congress, in Parliaments around
the world and in cities, towns and villages from Thailand to Ethiopia to
Haiti. Women, policymakers, heads of state and advocates around the world
came to know and love the small woman with the big ideas. She was at the
vortex of every meeting she attended, leaving a palpable blast of energy
in her wake.

Ms. Bartlett also played a key
role in bringing the issue of reproductive health supplies to greater global
attention. She served on the Executive Committee of the Reproductive Health
Supplies Coalition, an alliance of leading reproductive health organizations
that works to identify the main causes of supply shortages and provides
recommendations to government leaders and policy-makers about improving
the availability and access to these products.  

In the year since Terri left PAI,
she had served as a public policy consultant to numerous foundations and
nongovernmental organizations. Although her work was often in Washington,
DC, and other world capitals, her heart was in rural Smithville, Tennessee
where she lived with her beloved dog. She signed off her emails to friends
and colleagues with, "from the hills…" Her death has brought grief to
tens of thousands of people from Nairobi to Cairo to New Orleans to Washington,
DC. She was engaged in several projects at the time of her death and had
just finished rejoicing in the election of Barack Obama. But the ideals
she fought to make reality – ensuring that women and infants don’t die
in childbirth, that women choose when and how many children to have, that
girls receive educations to make them self-sufficient – will continue.
And friends and colleagues and people whose lives are vastly improved because
she once was here will forever be indebted to her. "From the hills,"
you will always be with us, TLB.

A memorial service is scheduled
at Terri’s home in Tennessee this weekend. Her brother is collecting stories
about Terri to read at the service. If you have a story to share, please
email it to:
A celebration of Terri’s life will be held in Washington, DC in the next
few weeks. For information, check PAI’s website at

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  • invalid-0

    What a beautiful, touching tribute to Terri. Thanks for your thoughtful and powerful reflections. She was a trooper for justice…the world needs more just like her!!

  • jas

    Thanks, Tamar, for this lovely piece on Terri.  You really captured her.

    – Julia Slatcher

  • invalid-0

    Tamar – Thank you for so woderfully capturing Teri’s spirit and service to women [and men] worldwide. I worked with Teri in the 1980’s to fight back the radical right and then again when she was at PAI. It was always a joy to be around her energy and witness her advocacy. She is missed!

  • invalid-0

    I was fortunate to get to know Terri in 1999 when I was Congressman Joe Crowley’s COS and we dealt with the Global Gag Rule. Terri was an incredible advocate, wonderful travel companion who traveled with me to China and Malawi to see reproductive health projects and a terrific person. She always wanted to be helpful in any project that the Congressman engaged in. In a city with so many people jaded by government, Terri was consistently excited about public policy and the ability to make positive change. She will be tremendously missed, by the literally hundreds of people she touched.

  • invalid-0

    I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to receive an e-mail from Terri just before Election Day, a video joke that claimed that Obama lost by one vote, mine, and urged me to avoid that destiny by voting right. Classic Terri. The great photograph choked me up as much as your reminisces, Tamar — so hard to believe we won’t see her and hear her distinctive voice again. Thanks. I miss her.

    Bob Engelman

  • invalid-0

    Terri Bartlett’s work is legendary and life-saving. She is a true sister to us all and a great example that the hardest work in the world can be done with a tremendous amount of joy!

  • invalid-0

    Thanks so much for writing this and honoring Terri, a committed and relentless advocate for women. I had the privilege of working with Terri while at Planned Parenthood, and the best thing about her was that she made advocacy FUN! I was constantly in awe of how fearlessly she dealt with those good ole’ boys in Louisiana and somehow always managed to fight their attempts to make abortion illegal. Terri, wherever you are, thank you for your inspiration and spirit!

  • invalid-0

    I have worked with Terri at different stages of my career and hers covering many years. When I was the Executive Director of Memphis Planned Parenthood from 1971 ot 1975,we launched the Tennessee Family Planning Associaiton (TAPPA) in order to advocate for reproductive health in TN. As an original member of the Board, I recall that we launched it at the approximate time of the Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade decision and soon employed an inspired young Terri Bartlett to lead the advocacy effort. Two decades latter, I as CEO of Pathfinder and Terri at PAI, worked as vigorously on global reproductive health issues as we had on local one decades earlier.
    Thoughtout her career, Terri brought determination and devotion to her labor. Her death is a great shock and a terrible loss.

  • invalid-0

    Hello friends,

    We just created a Facebook group to remember Terri. Feel free to add comments, photos, and videos to celebrate the life of TLB.


  • invalid-0

    This is shocking. Terri was a true original; her strong and intrepid and delightful presence will be missed by so many people around the world….

    Great job, Tamar.

  • invalid-0

    I don’t have a blog and I can’t be in Tennessee on Saturday, but these are some thoughts about Terri that have been occurring to me since Friday.

    Terri was so amazing – – I love that Tamar called her “the force of nature known as Terri Bartlett.” So true!

    It seems to me that Terri’s wonderful head of salt and pepper (and later, silver) hair
    had more bounce than the rest of us ordinary folks.
    Her voice had more drawl – – and more purr.
    Her short little stride had more sashay,
    her laugh had more throat,
    and her eye had waaaaaay more twinkle.

    I worked a bit with Terri for the past decade in some rather messy situations – – inter-organizational, complex-issue situations. Although it never really happened literally, I often felt as if she were saying, “Come over here and take my hand, little girl, and let me show you how the world works…” Because I believe that Terri knew how the world really works.

    That she did so without succumbing to cynicism is one of her great gifts of example to the rest of us.

    Terri knew how to fight, and lose, without rancor. She knew how to fight and win, with only joy and no “gotcha.” She could disagree without belittling and defer without grudging.

    It’s a blessing to me to have been in somewhat better touch with her over the past 6 months, to be able to hear in her emails “from the hills” that she was happy and confident, even peaceful.

    My heart goes out to all who are grappling with the loss of a real friend and terrific colleague.


  • invalid-0

    It was with shock and disbelief that I opened an email this morning to learn of Terri’s sudden passing. The message was from a friend in Cambodia who wrote to me in Australia which gives us some idea of the effect Terri had on the rest of the world.

    I worked with Terri intitiallly by email both when I was with FP Australia and when I helped found ARHA. I knew two things about Terri after a very short time – she would give you straight no BS advice and her sense of humour helped keep the world in perspective.

    We often attended meetings together in the late 90s and early 2000s – sometimes the meetings were awful and dispiriting but I knew that if I found Terri again I would regain my sense of humour and go back to battle with girded loins!!!

    She was an inspiration to many and it seems so wrong to lose her before, hopefully, President Obama can undo some of the dreadful damage done to our causes and also to the US generally overseas.

    She embodied all that is so great about your country.

    My sincere condolences to her family (including her beloved dog) I shall not be able to physically attend memorial serives but I shall be present at all of them in spirit.

    Thank you Terri, for your fabulous smile, your fierce determination to make the world a better place and also for making sure other people were uplifted by your spirit to carry on the work.

    Dianne in Australia

  • invalid-0

    I know I’m late but I want to offer my sincere condolences on Terri’s demise. She’s a true fighter and her loss will definitely be missed by everyone of us! Thanks Tamar for your graciousness in honoring this heroine.

  • invalid-0

    Very good article , the Woman’s movement lost a very priceless treasure when Terri Bartlett passed away.

    It’s so hard to imagine that decades ago women can’t go to school , can’t vote and incredibly can’t even have her own bank account. The changes that women now enjoy gives tribute to the struggles and sacrifices brave women like Terri Bartlett did for the movement.

    She will be missed

    -Dino Delellis

  • invalid-0

    This is indeed sad news , Terri has contributed so much to the cause of Women. This is a very touching tribute and may she be remembered as an icon in the struggle for the equality of Women everywhere.