Donna Red Wing: A legacy of friendship and civility

Donna Red Wing: A legacy of friendship and civility


By Drew Zahn

“I will be forever grateful that Donna invited me for coffee,” recalls The FAMiLY LEADER President and CEO Bob Vander Plaats.

Bob and Donna Red Wing were often quoted in the news media on opposite sides of contentious issues. Bob leads a Christian organization that advocates for public policy consistent with biblical values. Donna was a longtime LGBTQ activist and, in her own words, “a sometimes agitator.” They were natural “enemies” who became the most unlikely of friends.

Donna Red Wing passed away from cancer earlier this week.

“Donna often told the story of how a friend inspired her to reach out to the one person she was most naturally inclined to dislike. I’m not sure it’s really an honor, but she chose me,” Bob recalls. “She invited me to meet for coffee, and to both of our surprise, we both showed up! Then, over a number of coffee meetings, something even more surprising happened: We became honest, real, and true friends.

“Donna’s friendship did not change my convictions about God’s design for marriage or biblical sexuality, and neither did my friendship change her position,” Bob continues. “But that was never the point. We met to get to know one another as real people beyond the headlines.”

Bob and Donna’s unlikely friendship became the subject of astonished columns and articles in both local and national newspapers. In an age where deep cultural and partisan divides are the norm, their example of civility inspired many.

Watch the moving video made by Mutual of Omaha about Bob and Donna’s “unlikely friendship” below:

“We were often opponents on policy, but instead of lobbing rhetorical grenades at one another from the relative safety of our own echo chambers, we met face to face,” Bob recalls. “It changed us both. I know it changed the language and the tone we employ at The FAMiLY LEADER. Getting to know Donna taught our whole staff to stop and think, ‘How can we advocate for our position while still being conscious of and honoring the real people (like Donna) who disagree with us?’

“I’m deeply grieved that my friend is now gone from this world,” Bob says, “but I hope her example of reaching out will challenge others to do the same. I hope it challenges me. I want our commitment to restoring civil dialogue in America to continue as the lasting legacy of the day Donna Red Wing invited me for coffee.”

Drew Zahn is director of communications for The FAMiLY LEADER.