Lily Adams met the world before she was out of diapers when her grandmother held her up as the living embodiment of a hopeful future. Her first day of second grade was a media event as she walked in holding her grandmother’s hand. And when she eulogized her grandmother on national television, the country mourned the loss of the woman she called “Mammy.”
You knew her grandmother as Ann Richards. Those of us who worked for her still call her Governor. We’ve kept tabs on Lily over the years as she served as a House page during high school and later a press aide for top-tier campaigns and a U.S. Senator. Now 25, she just finished Tim Kaine’s successful senate campaign in Virginia. She isn’t sure what she’s going to do next, but it’s not running for office.
“That’s way, way far off. I’d be more interested in my mom running for office,” she said. “It’s certainly not anything on my radar.”
Her mom, by the way, is Cecile Richards, a star in her own right as the president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. You might have seen her on The Daily Show or in Vogue. Where you haven’t seen her, Lily, or anyone else in the Ann Richards family is on a ballot. George P. Bush—Jeb’s son—just opened a campaign account to run in Texas, and Chelsea Clinton has told Vogue that she’s considering running herself, but Lily’s happy doing the hard, anonymous work of campaigns.
“I’m pretty good at mailings. That’s what we grew up doing,” said Lily.
“When she became governor, we did everything. Everything was done in public.
It was a long time before I realized not every family did that.”
She and her twin college-aged siblings avoided the traditional travails of political scions—a remarkable achievement considering Gov. Richards’ well-known struggle with addiction. Some credit is due the sense of mission that the Governor handed down and the special relationship she enjoyed with Lily.
“She had some choice words of wisdom,” said Lily. “I think about her every time I go get a job. … I think about what she’d think about what I do, especially whom I choose to work for.”
It must be hard to be the second coming, to be the son of the Hall of Famer showing up to his first day of high school football, but, says Lily, “I try not to feel any pressure to be them, either Mom or Mammy.” Lily has her grandmother’s piercing blue eyes, her mother’s serious bearing, and something that Cecile recognizes from her own mother: “She’s remarkably quick to analyze a situation and come up with just the right thing to say. She gives very good advice and communicates in a way that is not Beltway-driven but is actually how people live their lives.”
Still, Lily avoids direct comparisons. “Mammy has a lot of gifts that were innate. Her wit. It’s not something I’d ever want to replicate. It’s just her,” said Lily. “Why would you ever try to compete with that? I’ll have to find other ways to make my mark. I try to feel as little pressure as possible.”
Too often people conflate “public service” with “running for office.” It appears that good parenting, as well as no small amount of brains, have helped this dynasty avoid that dysfunction.
“The best advice I’ve received was from my folks: Find somewhere you’re helping other people and enjoying going to work,” said Lily.
“I tell my kids and all the kids I meet to find something that brings you joy—and what brings most people joy is doing good. We’ve been very fortunate in our family to have that chance, to have work that moves the needle,” said Cecile, who went to Virginia to get out the vote and discovered the oldest of what Gov. Richards called her “nearly perfect grandchildren” was fast attaining rock-star status on her own.
“I ran into fans of Lily all over,” said Cecile. “It’s nice to be known as Lily’s mom.”