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

Tamar Abrams

Terri Bartlett 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.

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.  

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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: [email protected].
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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