Virginia Del. Eileen Filler-Corn’s portrait reflects a career of firsts

Virginia Del. Eileen Filler-Corn dedicates her portrait as speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, painted by Kathy Morris, March 15, 2023. Photo by Logan Whitton, Energized for Change

Dina Weinstein

Eileen Filler-Corn’s portrait hanging in the Virginia House of Delegates is brighter than the other paintings of House speakers who have served the body since 1619.

In the image, Filler-Corn wears a vibrant blue dress.

“I wore blue when I was sworn in. And yes, I like the color,” said Filler-Corn, who was first elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 2010. “Yes, I think it’s indicative of a blue commonwealth and specifically the blue wave of Democrats [that occurred in 2019].”

Until then, Democrats had not been in control of the Virginia House for a generation, and there hadn’t been a Democratic speaker until Filler-Corn was sworn in.

“So when I was thinking of what to wear when I was sworn in, I specifically chose that color,” said Filler-Corn, who wore a suit of a different shade of blue on March 15, the day the portrait was unveiled.

Filler-Corn represents the 41st District, which includes Springfield, where she lives, as well as Fairfax and Fairfax Station.

The subject of the 45″x33″ oil portrait contrasts with the 55 previous Virginia House speakers in ways other than bright clothing: Filler-Corn is Virginia’s first woman and the first Jew to be sworn in as speaker.

The image conveys Filler-Corn, who is a lawyer, at a podium signing a bill with her left hand. On a table in the foreground sits the gavel which she used every day to call the session to order, as well as a thick book of laws and an image of a family portrait of her husband, Bob, and her adult children, Alana and Jeremy.

Filler-Corn looks straight at the viewer and is smiling.

“I’m focusing on all of the transformational legislation that we passed,” said Filler-Corn. “Something that was incredibly important to me was making sure that I had my family there with me. You will not see a family picture in any of the other speaker portraits. There’s nothing more important to me than my family, and I could not have done what I did with without them. We work as a team.”

At the portrait unveiling, Filler-Corn said she said although it is her portrait that’s hanging in the chamber, it represents thousands of women and others who have been told that they don’t look the part or they don’t have the right faith or they’re not the right background or skin color or sexual orientation or gender identity to be where they deserve to be, which is wherever they want to go.

“I wanted to say, here in the Virginia House of Delegates, this shows that you do belong. And I also said: ‘My portrait might be the first, but I know there’ll be many more to follow.’”

Filler-Corn was also sure to have her daughter, Alana Corn, an entrepreneur who helps people with ADHD, give remarks at the portrait unveiling representing the next generation of Virginians.

Filler-Corn chose a Georgia-based deaf, self-taught painter, Kathy Morris, to paint the portrait. The months-long process of choosing an artist involved a day-long session sitting for photos and getting to know Morris, who worked on the portrait in her studio on her own over several months.

“I really wanted to find somebody who would be a first and being the first woman ever in the 400, now 404-year history [of the Virginia House of Delegates] of serving as speaker and being the first person of Jewish faith, I thought that would be really fabulous if I could find also a woman, [and] also a person of Jewish faith,” said Filler-Corn about Kathy Morris. “One of the many issues that are so important to me is working with people with special abilities. And I thought, finding somebody who had overcome some obstacles and finding somebody with special needs, special quality or disability, depending on how you use the terms, would be really meaningful.”

Today, the Virginia Democratic caucus is the first majority woman caucus in the commonwealth’s history. Filler-Corn said she is proud to have appointed more women and diverse individuals to leadership positions ever in the state’s history, including Black women elected officials serving as chairs of committees.

“I’ve had countless opportunities just serving in the legislature where Democrats and Republicans introduced their daughters to me and said: ‘This is the first woman speaker and the first person of Jewish faith,’” said Filler-Corn. “So, I just hope that it helps others [and inspires them to] want to follow their dreams and their goals and to recognize that they, too, belong, regardless of what they look like or their sexual orientation or their religion or skin color or gender identity.”

Filler-Corn has already announced that she will not run for reelection. Energized for Change, her Political Action Committee, has been in existence since 2019, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. More recently, Filler-Corn has been working with a professional team, crisscrossing the commonwealth helping like-minded individuals who are running for office up and down the ballots. The upcoming election has all 140 General Assembly members up this year, 40 in the Senate, 100 the House.

She is also exploring a run for Virginia governor.

She would be the first woman and the first Jew in that office as well. ■

Dina Weinstein is a freelance writer.

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