Saturday, May 31, 2008

Rhymes with Burden

When famous names lead the obituary columns, they do not require my notice to rest in peace. However, I need to find a little closure for myself at the death of Hamilton Jordan. He and I were born the same year. Jordan grew up in the Georgia town of Albany, pronounced by the locals in such a way that would never mistake it for the capital of the state of New York.

Hamilton Jordan graduated from UGA, majoring in political science. He landed a job with the gubernatorial campaign of Jimmy Carter, worked as an aide of the Governor's, and eventually presented an 80 page magnum opus detailing how the Georgia Governor could become President, complete with a reading list and names of people to get to know. After engineering Carter’s election as President, Jordan became White House chief of staff and played key roles behind the scenes in foreign affairs, including the successful Panama Canal Treaty and the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel, as well as the disastrous Iran Hostage Crisis.

The national press portrayed Hamilton Jordan to be something of a smart-ass and a character from Animal House, snorting cocaine at a New York night club, glaring down the cleavage of the Egyptian Ambassador’s wife and announcing his admiration for the Great Pyramids, and wandering the White House wearing blue jeans. Legal investigation of the cocaine charges came to nothing, and the Egyptian Ambassador’s wife denied the other report.

Hamilton Jordan taught the Washington press corps to say his name in the old southern style. When Jordan was first hospitalized with cancer, he said he turned on the television only to see a picture of himself and hear, “CBS News has just learned that former presidential aide Hamilton Jordan is in Emory Hospital and has been diagnosed as having inoperable lung cancer." Jordan asked, “If my doctor doesn't know what I have, how in the hell can CBS News know? This stimulates me to consider having a different medical team. Dr. Lesley Stahl of CBS could make the tough diagnosis. Cool and calm Sam Donaldson of ABC could perform the delicate biopsy. Godfrey "Budge" Sperling of the Christian Science Monitor (who has put me to sleep a couple of times before) could be my anesthesiologist. And columnist Robert Novak could administer the harsh chemotherapy.”

For more than two decades, Hamilton Jordan fought cancer, which he believed resulted from exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam, where he had served as a volunteer with an international refugee agency, despite his 4-F draft classification. In his book, “No Such Thing as a Bad Day,” he urges cancer patients to take charge of their own treatment. "I don't ever want to forget the raw fear of death. Today I lead a life I don't take for granted," he said to the Atlanta Constitution. Jordan and his wife Dorothy, a former pediatric oncology nurse, founded Camp Sunshine Retreat, in Morgan County, Georgia, for children with cancer, and later opened Camp Kudzu for children with juvenile diabetes.

Jordan told the Atlanta Press Club earlier this year that he admired the campaign of Barack Obama. He suggested President Obama should appoint New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as domestic policy czar or Secretary of Treasury, Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, and former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn as Secretary of State. I believe that leaves Hamilton Jordan’s reputation as a master political strategist intact.

Copyright 2008 by William C. Cotter

1 comment:

sunny said...

Bill - thanx for this eulogy. Young Ham was in Adam's high school class (class of 2002). Kathleen was class of 2007, so her dad saw her graduate. An inspiring, first-rate family.


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