Thursday, May 22, 2008

No Bad Days

No such thing as a bad day. My friend Hamilton Jordan was known to say this time and time again. He first heard it from a young cancer survivor. It stuck with him.

Hamilton Jordan had many different bouts with cancer and fought hard to overcome each one. He lost his fight last night. It's like the end of a political era for those of us who knew him. He was the Chief of staff to Jimmy Carter when Carter was the President. Before that he was a trusted aide and one of those guys who the press wanted to talk to because he was a most colorful character. He wasn't always nice but he was always quotable, and smart, and quick with a reply.

It was December of 1975 when I first met Hamilton and the 'crew' from Georgia. We were in a bar in New Hampshire trying to convince the traveling press they should follow our candidate. It was before candidates had a reporter assigned to them. It was before CNN. It was before Secret Service were assigned, but not much. Anyway, the game was to create a schedule that was so interesting, the press couldn't resist. And if you couldn't actually design or afford to do something amazing-you would try to fake it with elaborate descriptions or promises of a terrific meal. Hamilton was better at it than our press secretary Dick Stout, mostly because Hamilton managed to stay sober-and I mean that in the nicest possible way.

For many reasons the Carter team was an anomaly to this New Jersey girl. Like they ate grits and they said y'all. In addition, they had a Southern regionalism that was offensive to my recently developed 'general American' ear. (I was a Speech major in college and we learned how to rid ourselves of all traces of the places from which we came). Needless to say, these (what I thought were hicks from Georgia) gave all the sophisticates from the northeast fodder for those drinking events during important Udall campaign meetings. We were soon to learn that we had underestimated the potential of these 'yahoo's' who said y'all.

We had no idea why, but people seemed to like what Carter had to say. They wanted to hear him . Much to our surprise, they even voted for him. Were we short sighted or what? This peanut farmer kicked our butt in every primary. Sure people loved Mo Udall and he had many friends in Washington, but people weren't voting for him - except what we would now call the cappuccino/chardonnay set. Yep, we became “second hand Mo” and the Carters couldn't be stopped. Hamilton couldn't be stopped. He gave good advice to a candidate who wanted to micromanage but was willing to listen - to Hamilton.

The Carter years were different than the Clinton years for many reasons. One of the most important being their willingness to be part of the Washington community. Sure they had parties which were mostly Carter Administration people, but they did not have distain for the press. Hamilton understood the concept of “we all have a job to do - let's try to make it work for everyone”. We partied hard, had many good times, and shared all kinds of White House events. Hamilton thought it was a good idea to invite staff and their families to the White House for Christmas, the Easter egg roll, Halloween, whatever. It was nice to be part of that. It made for great memories.
In 1980, when they were building a Convention team, Bill Dixon called me and asked me to be the Director of Security. I laughed and said “Are you kidding?”. “No” he said, “we need a woman in a senior position and that's the only job I have left.” I told him I wasn't sure I could do it. And he said “Well that's what Hamilton said. He said you couldn't do it.” Of course I took the job. Later when I saw Hamilton I asked him why he thought I couldn't do it. He said he knew it was the only way to get me to accept the position. He had great instincts about people. He knew what worked. He got a President elected, but sadly, (although many disagree), not reelected.

I didn't talk to Hamilton after he went back to Georgia. We all moved on. I don't miss him like I would miss a good friend. But I do miss his political decency and ability to create a political family. I miss his honest commitment to human rights, to helping children to deal with their cancer, and, of course, his sense of humor about himself and his politics.

When Lee Atwater realized he was dying he admitted that he done terrible things to get George Bush One elected. Hamilton didn't need to make amends or apologies for his political antics or the way he lived his life. He was just a great guy who understood the value of life, loyalty, and family. And he was inspirational to so many people because he knew, “there were no bad days.” We're just sayin...Iris

1 comment:

Alicia said...

Iris -- lovely piece on Hamilton. I still haven't been able to find the words or the story I want to impart to the children. we were lucky to know the man - he probably taught us more when he was in the public eye facing down his cancer than in all of his other roles. - Alicia