Jackie Gingrich Cushman

I am blessed to have a mom who is special.

She is a woman of will. More than simply headstrong and determined, she is indomitable -- someone who cannot become overcome or subdued.

Spunky, determined, funny -- all these words describe Jackie Battley Gingrich. Her sparkling blue eyes, upturned mouth and constant activity belie her age. She is helpful, involved and active.

She has shaped me in many ways. She watched my ballet and band performances for hours, and cheered me on when I was down. She is convinced that I can do anything, and I almost believe it.

Most importantly, she has provided an example to me through her belief in God and her faith in him. She credits prayer, as well as medicine, for saving her life. She has served as a deacon in her church and still volunteers there.

She grew up in Columbus, Ga., the eldest of four children, and was diagnosed with polio at the age of four. "I do remember I could not go outside and play, so Mother pushed the crib slats next to the window so I could see the children outside playing," she told me recently. Her mother "did a lot of massaging, and that was my life. It must have been six months to a year before I got out."

She raced through college, earning a degree in math in just three years so her sister Carol could start college right after high school.

Mom taught mathematics at Baker High School in Columbus for three years. One of her students, Ruby Cantrell, class of '61, remembers her well. "She was always perfectly dressed and matched up. I just loved that teacher," Ruby said, smiling. "She was a leader, she made you feel so good that you felt you had to do something if she expected it -- she brought out the best in everyone."

My parents met when my father was a senior at Baker High School. They started dating when he was in college.

Mom left Columbus to live in Atlanta with three girlfriends. "Newt had a scholarship to go to Vanderbilt," she recalled. Mother, always practical, assumed that Dad would do what made sense. Instead, he moved to Atlanta and called on her.

They soon married, had two children and moved to Carrollton, Ga., where he taught college and she taught high school. Dad began to look into running for office. Mom had known that he was interested in politics before they were married. "That was part of the attraction -- I like politics," she said.

Mom was first diagnosed with cancer in the spring of 1978. She remembers going into her closet, crying and praying that she would live long enough for their children (my sister and me) to graduate high school.

Her prayers were answered: She's been given 33 more years and shows no sign of slowing down.

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.