Moving from prospective priest to Majority Whip
Tony Coelho '64
Former U.S. Representative
For 10 years starting in 1979, Tony Coelho sat in the U.S. House of Representatives — a tenure during which he’d serve stints as chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the majority whip (the representative tasked with getting the Speaker the required number of votes for a piece of legislation). All this because the seminary turned him away.
“When I graduated, I decided to go in the Catholic seminary. I got rejected because I have epilepsy. And you couldn’t be a priest if you had epilepsy.” That rejection would prove to be a foreshadowing of Tony’s congressional legacy: He was the primary sponsor and author of the American With Disabilities Act of 1990, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability.
“The legislation is very significant. It impacts not only people with disabilities; it’s an accommodation for millions of other people in everyday life. It makes me proud that I can say that I had a role in helping these people with their rights.”
Tony is still involved with disability issues today, counseling affected youth and chairing various disability organizations. His only future plan: to continue paying back what’s been given to him. And to spend whatever time he can enjoying his unusual hobby. “I enjoyed Congress. It was a wonderful experience — very rewarding and very stimulating. But for an absolute thrill? I love roller coasters.”