Maggy Hurchalla presents Reno Award: ‘Always do right. It will gratify a few and astonish the rest.’

Maggy Reno Hurchalla with her late sister, Jane Reno.

From Maggy Reno Hurchalla, a 20-year Martin County Commissioner, an active member of numerous Governor Commissions on the Everglades, water and planning, a lifelong advocate for wetlands preservation, and a winner of national, state and local environmental and conservation awards. Here is her presentation of the Janet Reno Endowment Women’s Leadership Award, May 21, 2018 in Washington, DC:

I’m Janet Reno’s little sister.

Before I tell you about today’s hero, Judge Cindy Lederman, I’d like to tell you something about my sister.

Because she was both famous and infamous as the Attorney General of the United States, you will hear diverse and contradictory stories about her. She has been painted both as an ogre who intentionally burned down Waco and as a softhearted old maid who didn’t understand that punishment was the only way you made people behave.


Most Americans knew she was real and not a caricature. They felt they knew and recognized her as someone who cared and had the courage to do what was right.

Caring and doing what was right came naturally. 

The four Reno kids grew up
 on 20 acres of woods and pasture, running shirtless in jeans and bare feet. My mother was not much into sartorial propriety, but she told Janny at age eleven that she had to start wearing a shirt. Janny stuck out her lower lip and said “Do I have to wear a slip?”

There were no neighbors for miles around us. We were each others best friends and adversaries. For entertainment we had ponies and cows and pigs and donkeys and ducks and chickens and peacocks .

Our parents and grandparents made us feel like we were the most important thing in the world. To them we were Janny Baby, Bobby Boy, Maggy Mine and Marky Fella. They didn’t give us things. They gave us unqualified love. All the asked of us was to do what was right.

Our growing up wasn’t an idyll, but it was an adventure. We s
kinned our knees physically and emotionally. Growing up isn’t easy. Raising children isn’t easy. It does take a village.

What was my big sister really like?

She was the oldest and wisest of us. She rough housed and ran with the rest of us but when we got out of hand she calmly sat on us. She was always fair.

She was taller and stronger and braver and kinder than most.

There was some debate over which of us was most stubborn. It runs in the family.We don’t give up easily.

She was NOT a dull proper person.

We grew up snorkeling with big barracuda on the beautiful cora
l reefs of the Florida Keys and sailing on Biscayne Bay. The Reno family specialized in getting lost on winding rivers, running aground on sandbars, and getting stuck in the mud on half the wild dirt roads in Florida. I tried to make us keep going when we should have turned back, Janny dug us out of the mud and got us home.

We laughed too loud and talked too much and told endless stories and sang old hymns joyously but off key.

And there were always children there with us.

In the dark front yard at the house my mother built, Janny would become Black Beard the Pirate. That entails burning a wine cork and using it to drawing on a fierce beard and mustache. Around a little campfire, Janny would entertain a circle of children with scary tales. The big children would be deliciously afraid. The littlest ones she would hug safely in her lap.

Janny meant to have a half dozen children of her own. Instead she helped family and friends to raise a whole slew of theirs. She has changed diapers and rocked teething babies to sleep. She didn’t give them back when they got difficult. She taught them to be brave adventurers who did what was right and she taught them NOT TO WHINE.

Janny loved Harry Truman’s line: “Always do right. It will gratify a few and astonish the rest.”


Doing what is right sounds easy if you are brave enough.

It’s not. If you think about it, for the really difficult decisions you don’t have enough information to know the consequences of your actions. 


Janny wanted to know more.

She was an earnest student and an avid reader. She read Sandberg’s Lincoln and Lee’s Lieutenants. She read everything she could about Teddy and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.

She majored in chemistry at Cornell to try to understand how the material world worked. That wasn’t enough.

 went to Harvard Law School and fell in love with the majesty of the law as a way to bring order and justice to a chaotic human world.


In 1977, she was appointed State Attorney of Dade County, Florida by Governor Ruben Askew. When the Governor announced to a large and boisterous crowd that he chose Janny for the job because “Janet stacked up better,” the crowd wouldn’t stop laughing and the Governor couldn’t stop blushing. After Janny was appointed to fill out the term of the retiring State Attorney, she proceeded to get elected to that office four times. She was the first woman states attorney in the state of Florida. She headed up one of the largest prosecutors offices in the country.

She had been one of 16 women in her Harvard law school class. She was the first women
 Attorney General.

But it wasn’t being first at anything that mattered to her. 


She dealt with crime. She put cocaine cowboys in jail. She was not a soft hearted prosecutor.


But she also saw a way to make the world a better place for those that needed it most – especially for children.

She thought if you grew up big and strong and well loved you had a responsibility to those who had been left behind.

She worked hard to exonerate the innocent and to create a system that didn’t arrest the wrong person in the first place.

She tried to find out what created the
 people she had to put in jail, how to keep it from happening, and how to repair the damage.

She instituted a drug court. It’s quicker and cheaper and better for all of us to give people a chance to fix their own mistakes in a program that works..

She visited hospital wards and saw that AIDS babies with no family needed someone to hug and touch them.

She made fathers pay child support.

I walked with her in Miami’s Martin Luther King Day Parade in 2012. A man stepped out from the crown and shouted:
“You made me pay child support!”

He followed up with:

“The kids doin’ good!”

She set up a victims’ advocate office when she learned how left out loving survivors were in the justice system’s focus on prosecution. She carried that idea to Washington. The year before she died we got a letter from Oklahoma City telling her how much that outreach and support meant to the survivors of the bombing of the Murray building.

In everything she did she wanted to find out ‘WHAT WORKS?”

When Bill Clinton asked her to be Attorney General in 1993, she wasn’t looking for another job. She loved the one she was doing.

When she went off to Washington we rook to calling her:
General Janny Baby.

On her first day on the job she walked from her apartment near the Navy Memorial to the Justice Building through the great March snowstorm.
On that corner of the building these words are engraved in stone:

“Liberty is maintained in defense of justice.”

What was she proudest of as the longest serving full time attorney general?
It was making justice work. For all of us. Especially for our children.

She used the vast resources of the Justice system to gather information from around the country. That information wasn’t used for press releases. It wasn’t used to defend a simplistic  philosophy or a political party.

Janny once told a persistent reporter: “I don’t do spin”

It was used to find out “WHAT WORKS?”

How do you really successfully reduce the crime rate and make us all safer?

How do you keep children from being damaged?

How do you fix what’s broken? 

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