Who Is Paul Ryan's Mother? Betty Douglas Is The Florida Retiree Any Politician Would Want To Call Mom
Not many Florida retirees headline presidential election rallies. But there's at least one brave enough to enter the political fray. Elizabeth Douglas — or as she likes to be known, "Betty" — gave stump speeches with her son Paul Ryan during the 2012 Romney-Ryan presidential campaign. With now-Speaker of the House Ryan on the ticket as Mitt Romney's running mate, she had seemed the perfect asset to reach voters more worried about Medicare and Social Security than student loans or Bain Capital.
Douglas, 78 years old at the time of the election and living part-time in the retirement community Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, became a character in the bigger debate that election season over the role of Medicare in the lives of current and future retirees. At a rally at one of the country's largest retirement communities, Ryan said that the program was something his mother relied on — and his grandmother, too.
"Medicare was there for our family, for my grandma, when we needed it then, and Medicare is there for my mom while she needs that now, and we need to keep that guaranteed," Ryan said, arguing that the Affordable Care Act was endangering the program's solvency — despite his own plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program by 2023. After that rally, Douglas went on to volunteer with the campaign, making the much-reported-on celebratory nine millionth voter contact in the state.
Douglas was pivotal in Ryan's involvement in politics from early on. During college, he had an internship in then-Wisconsin Sen. Bob Kasten's office. That led to a job offer after graduation, which he was hesitant to accept. As explained in Wisconsin Interest magazine, Douglas helped him make up his mind: "Ryan wasn't sure ... until Betty Ryan gave him a tongue-lashing. She feared her son was destined to become a ski bum.
She also helped her son during his first race for Congress, and she has been campaigning with him since he first ran in his 20s. She used to schedule public appearances and drive him around Wisconsin.
Douglas was as a stay-at-home mom when Ryan was growing up. His father was a successful attorney, but died of a heart attack when Ryan was 16. Douglas went back to work, and then to school, studying interior design. Eventually, she started a business that employed three people. She later married again, to a Navy veteran and insurance executive who died in 2002.
Now that she's not on the campaign trail, Douglas can enjoy her winters, escaping the harsh Wisconsin weather. As Ryan said at the Florida stump speech his mom headlined, "We have this rule in Wisconsin. It’s kind of an unwritten rule. You turn 65, you’ve got to go south for the winter. My Mom’s a snowbird."
Should Ryan run for nationwide office again, a mother retired in a swing state could be just what he needs.