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The Most Powerful Grandparents in the U.S.

These formidable grannies and gramps influence every aspect of our lives


(This article previously appeared on Grandparents.com.)

How is power measured? Is it the money you earn, or the political influence you wield? Perhaps it’s the breadth of your knowledge, the scale of your talent, or the number of lives you touch daily. Maybe it’s just name recognition. (How else can you explain the Kardashians?) More likely, it’s a combination of all those things — measurable assets like wealth mixed with intangible qualities like character and charisma.

Whatever your definition, the following grandparents have it, and, for the most part, exercise it wisely. In honor of Grandparents Day (Sunday, September 7th), here’s more about their incredible accomplishments, their amazing lives, and of course, their pride and joy: their grandchildren.

(MORE: Grandparents Day: Much More Than a Hallmark Holiday)

The Senate Grandmas

SENS. DEBBIE STABENOW, DIANNE FEINSTEIN AND BARBARA BOXER
Photos by Alex Wong/Chip Somodevilla/Eric Thayer/Getty Images

What you know: There are currently 20 women serving in the U.S. Senate.

What you didn’t know: Half of them are grandmothers, with over 100 years of combined experience. And if you think they’re sweet little ol’ ladies in honorary positions, think again.

Four (Patty Murray, D-Wash.; Mary Landrieu, D-La.; Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.) are chairwomen of major committees (Budget, Energy, Environment and Agriculture). Two (Boxer and Diane Feinstein, D-Calif.) head up select committees on Ethics and Intelligence. All have professional accomplishments to spare, and every one is a member of the Senate’s informal women’s club, dedicated to compromise and civility in a historically contentious political climate — leading Time magazine to call them “the only adults left in Washington.”

The complete list:

Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)

Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)

Deb Fischer (R-Neb.)

Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii)

Mary Landrieu (D-La.)

Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)

Patty Murray (D-Wash.)

Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.)

Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.)

Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

The Every Couple

RITA WILSON AND TOM HANKS
Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images

When you think of Tom Hanks, the word “power” might not immediately come to mind. More likely, it’s “comedian,” “guy next door,” or “Hey, weren’t you in Bosom Buddies?” And while he’s not a billionaire (only a multi-millionaire) or high-powered politician, the two-time Oscar winner corners the market in one very important area: sheer, unadulterated likability.

Recognized and admired by countless American, Hanks has been deemed by Forbes as our most trustworthy celebrity, above even Betty White and Michael J. Fox. His fellow celebs love working with the guy, and as a result, he has the cell number for every big player in Hollywood, from Steven Spielberg to … jeez, isn’t Spielberg enough?

In 2011, Hanks and his wife, actress/media mogul Rita Wilson, became grandparents to Olivia Jane. Two years later, little Charlotte Bryant showed up. The girls call Hanks “pappou” and Wilson “yia yia,” affectionate Greek terms for “grandfather” and “grandmother.” As if we couldn’t love them any more.

The Justices

ANTONIN SCALIA AND RUTH BADER GINSBURG
Credit: Alex Wong/Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Hopefully we don’t have to explain why the Supreme Court is the most formidable judicial power in the land. Over the last week of the 2013 term alone, SCOTUS handed down sweeping, culture-shifting rulings on cell phone warrants, insurance-subsidized birth control, union regulations, and more. Needless to say, those decisions will profoundly affect the lives of many, including the justices’ own grandchildren.

With an average age of 67, it shouldn’t be a shock the court is stacked with nanas and pop-pops; Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, and Antonin Scalia are all grandparents. In fact, at last count, Justice Scalia has 33 grandkids. (When asked if he could verify the number, he replied, “33. 34 is an unreasonable number of grandchildren.”)

(MORE: For Fed Chief, Janet Yellen, Age is Just a Number)

The President…(s?)

HILLARY AND BILL CLINTON
Credit: John Moore/Getty Images

Okay, so they’re not quite in the club, yet. But this fall, Bill and Hillary Clinton will become grandparents to daughter Chelsea’s first baby with husband Marc Mezvinsky. It has Hillary — still coy about her Presidential plans — thinking ahead: “Having that next generation right there and thinking about everything you want to do both personally — but in our cases, publicly and professionally — to give that child the best chance in life, that is profoundly moving to me,” she told People magazine.

Whether the former Secretary of State moves on up to the Oval Office remains to be seen. Rest assured, however, if she becomes our inaugural Grandmother-in-Chief (and Bill, First Grandfather), that eight-pound bundle of joy will have a profound effect on the future of the country.

The Philanthropist Billionaire

WARREN BUFFETT
Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

By now, you know the legend of Warren Buffett. You know he’s a mega-billionaire, the fourth richest man in the world. You know he’s revered as a careful investor and conscientious leader. You know he’s given over $20 billion to charity, and plans to keep on giving until he’s left with just 1 percent of his fortune. You know he’s famously frugal, living in the same home he bought in Omaha in 1957 for $31,500.

But maybe you didn’t know that the Oracle of Omaha is a grandfather, or that he approaches family money the same way he approaches company money: by making people earn it. Though he’s paid for his grandkids’ college educations, he has said: “There’s no reason why future generations of little Buffetts should command society just because they came from the right womb. Where’s the justice in that?” Billionaire or no billionaire, it’s a refreshing point of view.

(MORE: How Warren Buffett Made Me Smarter About Charity)

The Fashion Icon

DIANE VON FÜRTSENBERG
Credit: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Until Anna Wintour becomes someone’s Memaw, this space belongs solely to Diane von Fürstenberg, whose signature wrap dress holds a sacred place in 20th century women’s fashion. Considered by Forbes to be one of the 100 Most Influential Women, she oversees her DvF luxury brand in more than 70 countries, and is reputedly worth more than $1 billion. (And that’s without factoring the fortune of her husband, media tycoon Barry Diller.)

The Belgian-born designer and former princess — she became a U.S. citizen in 2002 — is a philanthropist as well, donating millions to public works, the arts, and women’s projects.

On her days off, von Fürstenberg plays grandmother to Talita, Tassilo, and Antonio. The kids have accompanied her to fashion shows and even sit in on the occasional photo shoot, no doubt taking notes for their own ascensions to power.

The Media Magnate

RUPERT MURDOCH
Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

As CEO of News Corp and 21st Century Fox, billionaire Rupert Murdoch has a direct line into almost every home in America, whether it’s through FOX News, HarperCollins publishing, The Wall Street Journal, or any of his myriad media companies. Those connections make him a valuable ally to those who concur with his conservative principles, and a mighty foe to those who believe otherwise.

As a father to six and grandfather to 13, the Australian-born Murdoch is also a family man … kind of. His three divorces have been famously contentious, and control over the family business is as oft-disputed as it is widely reported. Nevertheless, Murdoch told Fortune magazine earlier this year, “We’re a very, very close family. You know what close families are like. They meet at breakfast. They meet at dinner. And they have good arguments. That doesn’t mean they don’t love each other or have room for each other in each other’s lives.”

The Activist

DOLORES HUERTA
Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

If the people have the power (as the old Patti Smith song goes), then Dolores Huerta is more powerful than anyone else on this list.

What the great-grandmother lacks in wealth, she makes up for in admiration and respect. An outspoken advocate for laborers and founder of the United Farm Workers union, Huerta has campaigned tirelessly for almost 60 years, earning her the admiration of millions, not to mention some high-profile recognition. The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights, and 11 honorary doctorates are among the accolades that decorate her mantle.

And she’s not slowing down, either. Now 84, the New Mexico native is active on Twitter, Facebook, and in the real world, where she frequently gives speeches and interviews to adoring fans.

The Athletic Supporters

PHIL KNIGHT
Credit: Nike, Inc.

Nike chairman Phil Knight and oil/railroad magnate Philip Anschutz are two of the richest men in the world.

Both are also hugely influential in sports. Anschutz founded Major League Soccer and is part owner of the Los Angeles Lakers and Kings, while Knight … see: Nike.

Both men have great hair.

But what makes these grandfathers stand out from the pack is their commitment to funding their passions. Knight is one of the most generous philanthropists in the country, pledging almost $1 billion to Oregon sports programs and cancer research over the years. Anschutz, a devout Christian and prolific giver himself, funds dozens of projects, including orchestras, museums, churches, schools, women’s shelters, rehab clinics, the Boy Scouts, and the Salvation Army.

Both men are close to their families, and hope that their giving spirits catch on. “You hope,” Anschutz told the Philanthropy Roundtable, “that this feeling, this sense of obligation, gets passed on to your children, your grandchildren, and your grandchildren’s children.”

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