To be perfectly honest, when I first heard of Terry Mutchler, I didn’t want to like her. I was in my mid-20s, working for a public policy magazine in Springfield, Illinois, and trying to make a name for myself as a journalist. A note went up in the Statehouse pressroom, where I had an office: Terry had been hired to head the Associated Press bureau there, overseeing three other reporters. She was only a year older than I was, and, frankly, I could feel the professional jealousy surge as I read the news.
When I actually met Terry, though, that sense evaporated. She became — and remains today, two decades later — a beloved friend. And the quality that touched me first was her commitment to stand up for what she believed in, no matter the consequences. That is why she’s “my radical.”
Even by the time I met her, Terry already had taken professional stands and stood up for convictions from many would shy away. As a cub reporter in Pennsylvania, for example, she had refused in court to name a source in a story about how a municipality’s “police officer of the year” had been investigated for potentially beating his wife. A judge ordered her to give up the name of the person who gave her the police officer’s personnel records, or go to jail. But Terry protected her source, as she had promised to do. She did not end up going to jail, but was willing to do so.
While I knew her, Terry took issue publicly with a long-time practice of editors going to a strip-club as part of a professional gathering. Because these editors were clients of the Associated Press, where she worked, her criticism caused major headaches for her own bosses. Again, though, she stood up for what she believed in, rather than what was convenient.
But perhaps the biggest test of her convictions came when Terry left her beloved reporting career to go to law school, in part so that she could work closely with the woman she was secretly involved with, Illinois State Sen. Penny Severns. When Penny died of cancer soon after, the outside world didn’t and couldn’t understand the grief Terry was experiencing.
Since then, Terry has gained a national reputation for her groundbreaking work as a lawyer fighting for open records in Illinois and Pennsylvania, where she heads the state’s Open Records Agency. But the work closest to her heart is as an advocate for being true to one’s self — a lesson she learned the hard way, by instead living much of her life in secret. She is my radical for fighting — whether publicly or privately — for what she believes in, and I’m proud to have her in my life.