Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Father Hesburgh and American Presidents

As I noted a few weeks back in Father Hesburgh and the Congressional Gold Medal, I recently went to Notre Dame and visited with former Notre Dame President and American civil rights leader Father Ted Hesburgh. Father Ted talked to me and about 14 other people from Central Michigan University.

We all went up to the 13th Floor of the Hesburgh Library. We were ushered into a lavishly decorated room which was full of furniture. Shortly thereafter, Father Ted came out and talked with us for about an hour.

His lecture was on the history of civil rights in America. His talk was heavy on references to American Presidents. I counted ten including Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Kennedy, and LBJ.

Father Ted related numerous accounts of his personal interactions with presidents. I think he has personally known every one since FDR! One story I liked dealt with his early service on the Civil Rights Commission. The Commission (and their aides) traveled to Montgomery, Alabama to take testimony. The local hotels refused rooms to the Commission as some of people in the group were black. Finally, they went to a nearby Air Force base and asked for housing. They were refused! Frustrated, Michigan State University President and Civil Rights Commission member John Hanna demand a phone. He called President Eisenhower right in front of stunned Air Force personnel. Ike took the call and then demanded that the Commission be given rooms or that heads would roll. They all got rooms!

I asked Father Hesburgh a loaded question. I wanted to know who he thought was the weakest or least efficient American president he had worked with. He was very good at dodging that question. He started to talk about Nixon but stopped before giving Nixon as his answer. He stated all the Presidents so far have been good men trying to do an incredibly difficult job and each had their own strengths and flaws. However, he did think LBJ was the most effective of the ones he had worked with.

After the presentation, we all went back to Father Ted's beautiful office which has a spectacular view of the Notre Dame campus. He signed copies of his book God, Country, Notre Dame and let us look at some of his trophies. I was quite pleased to hold his Congressional Gold Medal which his secretary informed was worth 30K. Father Ted is a great guy, very friendly, and has lived an incredible life. I am pleased to have meet him.

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