My oldest daughter is a single mom to three and a successful engineer in a top company. She understands the power of education and is fighting for the best opportunities for her children. My son and his wife, parents to my other two grandchildren, are conservationists, and we argue about the appropriate level of government intervention to protect the environment.   

I was puzzled about their passion until I spent some time on her family’s land on the New River in western Virginia. I get it now. My youngest daughter shares stories of her work as a mental-health therapist for abused and addicted kids. They face challenges that are hard to imagine but, because of her dedication, they have hope. 

We learn, support, and counsel each other. Our time together heals, energizes, and inspires me. 

My mother turned 92 in October. Aside from a bout with breast cancer 15 years ago, a broken hip from a fall down my front steps — I am gripped with guilt but thankful I was with her — and a couple of spinal compression fractures this year, she’s in good health.  

But it’s her mind and the wisdom of her conversation that inspire me. 

Born at the start of the Great Depression, her father went for a pack of cigarettes and never came back, which left her mother to fend for herself and her three little girls. My grandmother took in laundry and did mending to supplement public assistance. When the girls were teenagers, a German immigrant working in the steel mills married my grandmother. He gave them love and stability, built furniture and a fish pond in the garden they all helped to plant. My grandmother died of malaria when my mother was 16. My grandfather adopted the girls, taught them the value of hard work, and instilled personal responsibility. He made sure they went to college.  

My mother married my dad, had me and then my brother. She raised us to respect everyone, to show kindness, to never turn down an opportunity to learn, and to appreciate what we had. She showed me there’s no shame in any kind of work, but only pride in a job well done. She taught us to read and to love books. She lost loved ones in World War II and Korea. She’s horrified by the atrocities of war, grateful for the leadership and sacrifices to protect and defend freedom and humbled by our veterans. She cries when visiting the memorials and gives generously to wounded warriors and victims of natural disasters.  

She’s a registered Democrat, an admirer of former Gov. Jim Hunt, and a fan of state Sen. Dan Blue. She voted for Trump, loves Charles Krauthammer, and reads George Will. She watches “The Five” and “Rachel Maddow” regularly. Above all else, she likes good thinkers. She suffers no fools and will call you out when needed. Her hand is always extended, to help and instill confidence, but not dependency. Respect is earned. 

My daughter says my mother is the glue that keeps our family together. She is. Compassion and respect for others, unending intellectual curiosity, appreciation for the value of education, responsibility for yourself, and the confidence that brings. Pride in what it means to be an American and to be free.  

I make my living reading, writing, thinking about freedom, and about opportunities brought via liberty and personal responsibility. I talk to decision-makers and those involved in the never-ending fight for freedom. People say they do it for their grandchildren, and I do, too. But my mother drives my work and fuels my passion in the fight, and on her shoulders I stand. I owe this to her. The freedoms that I enjoy, and the opportunities I have are, because of her and generations back to the founders. It’s my duty to ensure she’s honored and that her great grandchildren understand what they have is because of those who came before us. May the blessings of my mother and those like her never be taken for granted. 

Becky Gray is senior vice president for the John Locke Foundation.