• Timothy Wirth (WHF 1967-68) Remembers John Gardner in Oral History Project

    S T A N F O R D  U N I V E R S I T Y


    INTERVIEWEE:                   TIMOTHY E. WIRTH

    INTERVIEWER:                    SUZANNE ABEL


    Abel:   This is Suzanne Abel here with Timothy E. Wirth, a member of the White House Fellows class of 1967-1968, who worked directly with John Gardner during his fellowship. A Democrat, Senator Wirth served twelve years in the House, representing Colorado’s Second District, then one term as senator. Among his many roles, Senator Wirth served as the founding President of the United Nations Foundation from 1998 to 2013. We’re conducting this interview as part of the John W. Gardner Oral History Legacy Project in cooperation with Stanford Historical Society. Thank you, Senator Wirth, for making time to speak with us today. I appreciate it.

    Wirth:   [00:00:42] Delighted to be here. I should also say that I think I was the founding president of the White House Fellows Association.

    Abel:   Were you?

    Wirth:   I think I was the first one, maybe the second one, back in the early days.

    Abel:   So you see, I didn’t know that. Yes, that’s wonderful. So I know–happy birthday!

    Wirth:   Thank you.

    Abel:   I know that you just had a birthday.

    Wirth:   We just had Al Gore here for a big event at the University of Colorado for the Wirth Chair at the University of Colorado. He was here last week, and now we’re hosting 150 people tomorrow night, so we’re having a–

    Abel:   [00:01:12] Wow. That’s a big birthday celebration. [laughs]

    Wirth:   Well, it’s not a birthday celebration–but it’s all a good time to bring a lot of good people together.

    Abel:   Yes. Think back about what you accomplished, too. So I know you were born in Santa Fe, right?

    Wirth:   Yes.

    Abel:   But yet you were raised in Denver, mostly?

    Wirth:   Denver, yes.

    Abel:   And of course you were born just before World War II, and it made me immediately curious about whether your parents were involved at all in [the war effort].

    Wirth:   [00:01:39] My father taught at the Los Alamos Ranch School, which was outside of Santa Fe. It was a boys’ school. It was taken over by the AEC [Atomic Energy Commission] in 1942 to build the atomic bomb. Oppenheimer [J. Robert Oppenheimer] knew about that isolated place–and so when the government came in the school was thrown off the mesa. My father died in early 1943, and we moved back to Denver in 1944. My mother was a teacher, so I grew up in a single-parent household and always surrounded by education.

    Abel:   An educator? Yes. Wonderful. I thought there was probably some sort of World War II connection.

    Wirth:   [00:02:17] I had one brother, and my brother John [John D. Wirth] was also a longtime faculty member at Stanford, a senior member of the History Department, a Latin American historian.

    Abel:   Yes, that’s right. I’m also associated with Latin American Studies, so I know I’ve seen his name.

    So we want to identify what you would have considered seminal influences in your growing-up years. I know you went to, is it Graland Country Day School in Denver? But then you went to Exeter [Phillips Exeter Academy], right? So as a westerner going east to such a place, I wondered how you responded to that. Was that your choice? Did your mother want you to go away?

    Wirth:   [00:02:59] Well, my father had known some of the other teachers who taught at Los Alamos during the 1930s, and a couple of them had been to Exeter or had taught at Exeter, and so my mother always remembered my father’s belief that Exeter was the best school. So when I was, I guess thirteen or fourteen, I really wanted to get out of Denver and spread my wings, and go away to school, and Exeter offered me a very nice scholarship.

    So I got on the train at age fourteen and headed across the country, and a two-day train trip, two nights on the train a day in Chicago in between, going to the Museum of Natural History there, a fabulous museum, and then arrived at Exeter at age fourteen. I didn’t have any idea what was going on–oh my God. But it’s an incredibly good school, and very, very tough, and I learned a lot.

    [00:03:59] One of the key things about this, that I always think of Gardner when I think of Exeter, because Gardner always used to say to me, “You’ve got to write. You have to write. What have you been writing? How have you been writing?”

    It was at Exeter that they really focused on writing, and I had a couple of superb English teachers. —Years later, I last went up to Exeter and was an alumni speaker there, one of the very senior faculty people, who was then about ninety, one of the two who were still alive from the time that I was there, came when I addressed the assembly for the town  and the school. He sat over in the corner, and there was this wizened old guy who had climbed K2 and had been one of the original people who wrote a book about climbing K2. He called me over, and he said, “You know, you were one of the two best students I ever had.”

    [00:04:56] That was writing. That was John Gardner. That was writing. It all–the threads of this. So I was very pleased with that, and I knew Gardner would have been very pleased about that, because he was a great believer in that–and he wrote so beautifully. He said you can’t really discipline yourself unless you have written about it.

    Abel:  Yes, right. That’s wonderful. So tell me just quickly about the decision to attend Harvard and your academic interests there.

    Wirth:   Well, my brother was at Harvard, and my stepbrother was at Harvard, so there were three of us at Harvard at the same time from the little town of Morrison, Colorado. So I wasn’t much of a student there. I was just very interested in exploring an awful lot of different life there, and so was not a great student, but I had an extraordinarily interesting time. Also I worked twenty hours a week while I was there, so that took a big chunk out of time, you know, all to float the cost of going through Harvard, which was always not trivial.

    Abel: [00:05:54] What did you major in?

    Wirth: History.

    Abel: History. Then so I know you stayed on.

    Wirth: I stayed on. I went in the Army. Right after, the day after I graduated from college, I went in the Army. Then I went back and I taught school for six months in Vermont and then went back to Harvard. They chose somebody every year to work in the admissions office, to be kind of trotted out, and go to various places, and so on, as an alumnus.

    Abel:   [00:06:25] Yes, recruiters?

    Wirth:   So I did that for two years, and then a friend of mine saw that there was a big, new, Ford Foundation-funded program at Stanford. So I said, “That sounds interesting.” It was a long-term program in economics and education, and that’s what I was interested in. So by golly, suddenly I was on my way to Stanford, which was great. I had been in New England for ten years.

    Abel:   But you got the MA in education?

    Wirth:   Yes, but that was just–

    Abel:   That was just along the way?

    Wirth:   [00:06:55] That’s for showing up. But I went out to Stanford, and that was a fabulous experience. I immediately got adopted when I got there by J.E. Wallace Sterling, and they found out that I had worked for the Harvard administration, and so I don’t know, somehow, maybe through one of Sterling’s daughters.[1] He had two daughters, and they used to have great parties at the president’s house, Sterling’s daughters. I got involved in all of that right after. I said, “This is unbelievable, being at Stanford. This is incredible.” So I worked for Sterling for two years, and that led me, in part, into the White House Fellows program.

    [00:07:41] There was a fellow who was named Mike Walsh [Michael H. Walsh , class of 1964]. Mike Walsh was a very famous Stanford alum who was a football player and a very distinguished student leader. He’d been in the first class of White House Fellows, the first one. I had met him somewhere, and we became fast friends immediately. This was right out of the blue. So I’m getting to know him. He told me about the White House Fellows program, so I said, “Well, if that son of a bitch can get a White House Fellowship, I can, too.” [laughs]

    Abel:   But you were in the middle of your program at Stanford?

    Wirth:   Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

    Abel:   This was part of what I was trying to sort out.

    Wirth:   [00:08:19] Yes, I wasn’t particularly interested in the program. I was interested in what are you going to learn outside in the world. So I applied for the White House Fellows program, and Stanford had pushed Walsh, and then there was somebody else in the second class that they pushed, and they discovered that I was applying. I had not told them, and it was my own application. It wasn’t a Stanford application. But they then weighed in, apparently, so I later found out, and really wrote very strong recommendations for me. So I did win that. It was the third year of the program, and there were fifteen of us. I ended up working for Gardner, as he was the principal.[2]

    [00:08:59] You all got assigned to one member of the cabinet, and suddenly, bam, there I was in this monstrous cabinet position. I had no idea what I was doing. It was classic. I’m showing up at Exeter at fourteen; I had no idea. [Abel laughs] But Gardner became coach and mentor at that point, and I had not known him before, but he was the person who had thought about the White House Fellows program–

    Abel:   Oh, yes, his famous memo.

    Wirth:   –and convinced Johnson to do it. And there I was, with the prime, number one–it was what everybody wanted, to be working with John Gardner.

    Abel:   So I understood from the Kilbergs [Bobbie and Bill Kilberg], [who] were telling me that you expressed a preference as to where you wanted to be.

    Wirth:   At that point, you couldn’t.

    Abel:   [00:09:38] Really? So you were just assigned.

    Wirth:   No, no, no. You were just assigned; you just got assigned.

    Abel:   It just happened.

    Wirth:   Yes.

    Abel:   That’s remarkable, because I don’t know if you would–would you have chosen HEW [Health, Education, and Welfare]?

    Wirth:   I have no idea.

    Abel:   Yes, hard to know.

    Wirth:   I didn’t even know what HEW was, but I knew there was a Defense Department, and I knew there was a White House, and that was about it. I really didn’t know anything.

    Abel:   So you’ve answered a lot of this; you said you weren’t necessarily aware of him before.

    Wirth:   No, I had no idea. But I guess I must have gone in to interview him. He must have looked at me to make sure that I didn’t have horns coming out of my ears or something.

    Abel:   [00:10:17] What do you remember about first meeting him?

    Wirth:   Oh, I just remember going up into this–he was in this office on the fourth floor of the old HEW building. There was this big bay, and his press person was in one of the parts of the bay, and his administrative assistant in another part, and there was a little office off to the side, which was assigned to me. So I go in there, and what do I do now? [Abel laughs] I didn’t know.

    He had a nine or a ten o’clock staff meeting every week, and so we went into the staff meeting, and if it had started at nine, at 9:55 everybody got up and left. That was his rule. It was his academic fifty-five minute class. Every staff meeting–over. So if you didn’t get anything done at 9:55, you didn’t–so there I was in that first staff meeting. I’m sitting around the outside, not at the table, but around the outside, looking at all of this, thinking, what are these people talking about? What’s this going on here? So that was my introduction to John Gardner.

    [00:11:20] So he sent me on patrol on a couple of projects, but just sort of unleashed me to get to know what was going on. He was a strong believer in the idea–and you’ve probably talked about this; I hope people have–his strong belief in creating a cadre of inners and outers, people who knew their way in to the government, but then went home again and were outers. The idea was, “You’re an outer right now, and you’re going to learn about the government. You’re going to see what’s going on, and hope you can make a contribution along the way, and let me know if I can help.” But good Lord, he was just overwhelmed at that point because we were at the height of the Vietnam War, and he was going to resign in the following March.

    Abel:   [00:12:04] Well, January 1968, yes.

    Wirth:   In January. Well, of course, so that was pretty early on in the year. My White House Fellows year started in September. We had our first child the week after we got there, so life was pretty complicated for us, with a brand new baby, a job I had no idea what I was doing in, doing all of this, the swirling nature of anti-war activities, his resignation.

    I’ll never forget, on the fourth floor, when he announced his resignation and was leaving the Department. His office was at one end of a long, classic Washington bureaucratic corridor, and the elevators were at the other end. He walked out of his office, and the corridor was lined with people clapping, because he was so respected and had such affection from people there. He walked out, and it was just incredible, and got to the elevator and was gone. It was just amazing, and his affection for the place and for the mission, and obviously it had been very tough for him–I have no idea. I never talked to him about it.

    Abel:   [00:13:12] Yes, I wondered if he had shared anything.

    Wirth:   He was way up there. I didn’t know, no. No, but later on, then he asked me if I would help him when he was doing the transition into the Urban Coalition. I think that started very soon thereafter. So I really got myself assigned as the White House liaison for the Urban Coalition, and so I worked at HEW some for Wilbur Cohen, the new secretary, and also at the Urban Coalition, which was over on H Street at about 20th or something in a sort of gnarly old office over there.[3] He was there, and so I did a lot of things for him over there. I don’t remember what it was, but I was going back and forth, and at that point–

    Abel:   So you were “on loan” from the White House Fellows program?

    Wirth:   [00:14:05] Yes, from the White House, I was on loan to help him with the Urban Coalition. It was such an informal world. Our best friend in the White House Fellows class was Doris Kearns [Doris Kearns Goodwin]. We were in the same class together, and we went to all the events together, and we always picked her up. She was single, and she, my wife Wren [Wren Winslow Wirth] and I, became very close pals. You could drive right in to the White House, and then Doris at that point was ensconced in the White House and working for Lyndon Johnson. She had battled herself out of the bowels of the Labor Department. I’m sure you know that story of getting salvaged. Then Johnson discovered her, and she was working in the White House. I could drive my Volkswagen right next to the White House and go pick up Doris, or go right in there, and have a meeting, and park my car right there between the White House and the old Executive Office Building, Executive Avenue, which is now covered with security, and machine guns, and airplane over-flights, and so on. You’d just drive right in, and that was an innocent world. That was an innocent world. So I did that for, I guess almost a year, because he left in January.

    Abel:   He left in January, and your fellowship would have run through–?

    Wirth:   September, but I then stayed on some–oh, I stayed on at HEW. Yes, let me see what happened. I don’t remember quite what happened in that transition period of time, but at the end of the year, when the election occurred and Nixon [Richard M. Nixon] got elected, Robert Finch [Robert H. Finch] became the secretary of HEW. He’d been Nixon’s campaign manager, a titular campaign manager–was a Californian–and knew Gardner.

    [00:15:54] So when he got elected, he called up Gardner, apparently, and said, “I’m going to be the new secretary of HEW. Can you give me a sense of the landscape?”

    So Gardner said, “Yes, but I’ll meet you in San Francisco,” and he said, “I’m going to bring along this young guy I want you to meet.”

    So we went to the Top of the Mark and met Finch at the Top of the Mark [at the Mark Hopkins Hotel] for lunch or an afternoon. I don’t remember. It was a period of time.

    At the end of this discussion, Finch said, “Well, what are the next steps?”

    Gardner said, “Well, first thing you ought to do is to get Tim Wirth to stay with you and work with you, because he knows the department and knows everybody. He’s not partisan. So do that.”

    So I ended up then very rapidly working for Finch –so I worked for Finch, and then worked at HEW for another year-and-a-half or two years.

    Abel:   [00:16:48] So that’s how you got to be deputy assistant secretary?

    Wirth:   Yes. But before that, during the transition after the election of 1968, there had been–and I was then working for Gardner at that point. That must have been that transition, three or four months, working for Gardner. There were four campaigns that had gotten disappointment: the McCarthy campaign, the Rockefeller campaign, the Bobby Kennedy campaign–I guess maybe three.[4] But all had engaged a lot of young people, and so Gardner said, in some classic Gardner vision idea,“Why don’t we see if we can mobilize all those young people?”

    [00:17:35] So we started a group. I organized and called in the young leaders, the chief kids from the McCarthy campaign, Larry Rockefeller [Laurance S. Rockefeller, Jr.] leading the Rockefeller kids. A guy named Bob Hart [full name], who was a young, very liberal kid from Idaho, was the head of the Kennedy campaign in Idaho, of all things. So I called them in, and we started a group called the National Action Corps, and that lasted for about two years. We thought that this was really going to be great, and a way to continue to reach out and get everybody involved. Well, it turned out, of course, that the leaders of this all had their own ambitions. They had their own things that they wanted to do, and they weren’t about to go work for some other kind of mushy, [Abel laughs] or some other kind of ideas, or some other kind of organization.

    [00:18:25] So I met a lot of interesting people. My God, it was a fabulous cadre of people. I still see some of them around. Anyway, that was that transition from election time in 1968 until into January or February. Then I went to HEW full time. So I was trying to run the National Action Corps, working for Gardner, but then got involved with Finch and back at HEW.

    Abel:   Yes, and you had mentioned when we talked on the phone, lo these many months ago, about John Gardner coming here?

    Wirth:   That was later. That was a lot later. That was when I was running for Congress.

    Abel:   Oh, okay, I thought you had said after the 1968 election, but no.

    Wirth:   [00:19:06] No, no, no. It was when I was up, my first election, 1974. He might have come here. I don’t remember. We hadn’t moved back. We moved back here in 1970, and my wife was very involved in Common Cause here, locally.

    Abel:   I was going to ask you about that, the Colorado one.

    Wirth:   So he probably came to Colorado. It was one of the most active Common Cause chapters, so he well could have come out for them. I just don’t remember that.

    Abel:   Okay, but that isn’t the story that you told me before. It was from later.

    Wirth:   Yes.

    Abel:   You were aware of Nelson Rockefeller having offered him the opportunity to take Bobby Kennedy’s seat?[5]

    Wirth:   [00:19:45] Yes, well, and it was funny. I’m not quite sure what went through his head, but I do remember when he came out to–it was in Denver, during my first congressional campaign in 1974. I was way behind, andI was breaking my spear. It was ridiculous. I didn’t know anything about politics. We came and sat on our porch in West Denver, and I’ll never forget–we had this old Victorian house, and there was a view that ran right down–you could see Pikes Peak right out of it if you sat on the porch in the right place. You could see Pikes Peak, and we sat there, and he and I had a good part of a bottle of bourbon, and sat there. He was giving me a pep talk about hanging on, and staying in the race, and, “Don’t get discouraged by this, and do it.” He said, “You know, the one thing I wish I had done was to run for public office.”

    Abel:   [00:20:43] That’s remarkable.

    Wirth:   He said that to me in 1974.

    Abel:   He doesn’t seem to have said it to too many other people. Maybe it’s because you were in the throes.

    Wirth:   Well, it was during the campaign. He was giving me a pep talk. So I don’t know what was going through his mind when Nelson Rockefeller wanted him to take that appointment. In retrospect, I’m surprised he didn’t, because he was really committed to it and really committed to making government work, and it was a position of high leverage. I never knew why it was that he didn’t do it.

    Abel:   [00:21:21] Right, except something to do with his personality, perhaps, that he just–maybe he didn’t see himself in that [role], putting himself out there.

    Wirth:   Yes, he didn’t see himself in that kind of [position], but in fact he would have been terrific at that. Look at Moynihan [Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan] as an intellect and as a visionary in his own quirky way. Gardner would have been a very different kind of a [senator] and a wonderful voice. He would have been a very, very good United States senator.

    Abel:   Yes, oh my goodness–the road not taken. He could have changed history in some ways.

    Wirth:   [00:21:54] Well, he could have, yes.

    Abel:   Yes, so that remains a bit of a mystery, I must say.

    Wirth:   Yes, I don’t know why.

    Abel:   Then also Nixon apparently offering him the vice presidency?

    Wirth:   I didn’t know about that.

    Abel:   You didn’t know about that. A couple of people have mentioned that, which kind of astounded me, too, but I can see why he wouldn’t have done that.

    Wirth:   I don’t think that that’s right. I don’t know. Maybe it’s right. It doesn’t sound right to me. It doesn’t sound right.

    Abel:   [00:22:17] It might have been early on–well, he might have been looking for someone who would be a counterbalance and perhaps be–[thinking about] the respect that John had at that time.

    Wirth:   Yes, I don’t know.

    Abel:   You’re skeptical.

    Wirth:   It doesn’t sound right, but Nixon was schizophrenic. He had this dark, John Mitchell [John N. Mitchell], Ehrlichman [John D. Ehrlichman], Haldeman [H.R. “Bob” Haldeman] side, and on the other hand, he had this Finch [Robert H. Finch], Veneman [John G. Veneman], very liberal side. It was the dark side that got him in trouble. It was the other side at HEW, when Finch was at HEW and then Veneman, with the first major welfare reform program and the first major healthcare initiative. It was fabulously creative, and the group of people that worked there, my God, they were fantastic, the cadre of people that worked as liberals in the [Nixon administration].

    Abel:   [00:23:11] Yes, especially on the domestic policy side, right?

    Wirth:   Yes. Well, I’ll tell you another story about that. The reporter, the cub reporter for The New York Times that was officed at HEW, was named Sy Hersh. Sy Hersh [Seymour M. Hersh] now a famous advocate, but he was a young reporter. There was, when we were first at HEW, and this was, I’m bouncing back and forth. I’m at HEW, working for Gardner, and all the liberal Republicans are working away in there. The Department had the responsibility for enforcing and working on all the civil rights agenda. That all came out of the Department, in the liberal side of the Department, though the conservatives were trying to tear it down like crazy, Haldeman and Ehrlichman.

    [00:23:58] So there was this battle that became well known between the liberals in the Republican administration and the conservatives, and so Sy Hersh wrote that the White House was calling the group at HEW “Finch’s crowd.” So a brainstorm of mine, I got a lot of buttons made, [Abel laughs] which then showed up around the Department, and everybody was wearing “Finch’s Crowd” buttons. We thought that that was pretty clever. Well, of course that then got reported by Sy Hersh and the time that people were thumbing their nose at the White House with the buttons that said “Finch’s Crowd.”

    [00:24:32] So I’m in my office, and Pat Gray [L. Patrick Gray] came rolling in. Pat Gray later became the head of the FBI, and threw all the documents into the river later on. Pat Gray was actually a terrific guy, was Finch’s and then Veneman’s chief of staff, and he comes rolling in the office. He said, “Whose idea was this?” [both laugh] So this other guy in the [office]–and there was an intern in there named Marc Lackritz [Marc E. Lackritz], who was a Rhodes Scholar, but was taking a year off from his Rhodes Scholarship, came to work for HEW, interned for another guy and me–and so we both just looked at Lackritz.

    So we’ve been talking about being thrown under the bus. Pat Gray was so mad at [him]. So I recently sent Lackritz an email about what’s going on with Pence right now and said, “You ought to write Pence a note of advice of what it’s like to be thrown under the bus.”

    Abel:   Really?

    Wirth:   [00:25:35] God, it was funny. But it was all very Gardner-esque. They were all moderate, liberal Republicans, incredibly constructive Democratic crowd. It was just an amazing time. It was a wonderful time, and I learned so much, I was thrown into these situations.

    A final note on this. The Department was almost on strike over the war, and they were saying, “We’re going to stop workage” and so on. So there was this major, all-hands-on-deck staff meeting in the auditorium at HEW, and Finch was under such great pressure that he had a minor heart attack and went to Walter Reed, so he couldn’t address the crowd. He couldn’t address everybody, so they’re trying to figure out, “Well, what do we do now? Who’s going to do what? What are we going to say?”

    [00:26:28] So they stuck me–I’m a Democrat–I’m not even sure I [was even registered]–I may have been a registered Republican, [Abel laughs] because when I was at Stanford, there was a guy named Max Rafferty [Max L. Rafferty] who was running for chief state school officer.[6] He was a right-winger, so a lot of people registered as Republicans so that we could beat him in the primary.

    So I’m still a registered Republican, by the time that Gardner said to Finch, “Take Tim,” they looked at my registration, I’m a Republican, so they fingered me. So I’m up there in front of this whole HEW auditorium – the place was on strike, whenever it was. That was in the spring of 1969. I’m in there speaking to the Department, and they all trusted me because they knew I was a liberal from John Gardner’s crowd and so on from before.

    Abel:   [00:27:17] So what came of it?

    Wirth:   I don’t remember.

    Abel:   I hadn’t heard that.

    Wirth:   The place didn’t go on strike, but–I mean, it was on strike. These were the heated days.

    Abel:   An incredibly contentious time. How did you somehow in there finish your PhD, by the way? Because you must have been going back and forth somehow.

    Wirth:   Well, I had done all my coursework. I did all my coursework at Stanford. Let’s see. What was the timing on that? I did all my coursework.

    Abel:   [00:27:46] I couldn’t figure it out.

    Wirth:   Well, I did it while I was at Stanford, before the White House Fellows program.

    Abel:   So didn’t you start in 1966 at Stanford, or was it later?

    Wirth:   Yes, it would have been about that.

    Abel:   Right, so you got your coursework done in a year or so.

    Wirth:   About a year-and-a-half.

    Abel:   It sounds like John Gardner, who got his PhD in two years from Berkeley, right?

    Wirth:   Yes, that was my view.

    Abel:   That was your model?

    Wirth:   [00:28:10] That was my view: just get out of here as fast as possible. This is ridiculous. [Abel laughs] So I studied for my exam, and I was also trying to date my wife Wren, who was the most beautiful woman on the Peninsula and in San Francisco, had a line all the way across the Bay Bridge of people who were trying to take her out. So I had met her at a Halloween party, and I said, “Oh my God.”

    Abel:   Oh, so you met her there.

    Wirth:   Yes, I met her at a Halloween party in San Francisco. It was part of this whole crowd, falling into the J.E. Wallace Sterling, all of the Stanford crowd, then meeting other people. She wouldn’t go out with me, so finally [Abel laughs] I said to her, I would take my PhD exams and “I’m going to be done in March. My last exam is on umpty-ump of March. Would you go out with me that Saturday?” It was so far ahead, it was hard for her to say [no]. Well, it turned out that she was also untangling alliances at this point, so we went out in March and then decided to get married about three weeks later–just unbelievable.

    Abel:   [00:29:12] You got married in Washington, right?

    Wirth:   Yes, we got married, because she had family there.

    Abel:   At the Cathedral?

    Wirth:   But anyway, so then I finished my dissertation. When I left HEW, someplace in that period of time, I had kept a lot of notes. I had run this taskforce on Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.[7] We tried to make big changes in Title I and to focus differently on how this federal funding ought to get used to create real change in urban school districts. I had all this data from all of the notes and all the work that had been done on this. So I’m figuring out, what can I do? I happened to talk with Doris Kearns, whose sister lived in Denver. So I was talking to Doris. I said, “What am I going to do?”

    [00:30:05] “Oh,” she said, “what you want to do is to use Understanding the Cuban Missile Crisis,” that incredible book by Graham Allison, who later became dean of the Kennedy School. He wrote about different views of the Cuban missile crisis.[8] He had written this very analytic book. This goes to Doris and the White House Fellows. How did the Navy view the Cuban missile crisis? How did the administration view the Cuban missile crisis? How did the Russians view it? They all had different views of the same situation.

    Abel:   Different lenses, right.

    Wirth:   [00:30:38] “So why don’t you use that as the model for a dissertation? The chief state school officers had a view of what ought to be done, community groups had a view of what ought to be done, and the government had a view of what ought to be done. So why don’t you see if you can use that kind of a model for it?” Which I did. I sent Wren and the children, then two babies, went back and stayed with Wren’s mother for two weeks.

    Abel:   Two weeks?

    Wirth:   I’m not kidding you.

    Abel:   Yes, seriously?

    Wirth:   I had it all organized. It was the perfect organization. I remember the chapters stacked around the office that I was using in our basement. I had them all lined out. I took maybe a day to sort out, this goes here, this goes here, this goes there. Then I wrote a chapter every morning, every noon, every night, and got it all done, shipped it into Stanford–done.

    Abel:   [00:31:29] Oh my God.

    Wirth:   My PhD might have been as fast as Gardner’s.

    Abel:   That’s what it sounds like. Wow.

    Wirth:   But I realized that if he did it in–.

    Abel:   He did it in two years.

    Wirth:   Yes, if he could pull it off, and get it carried away, and be legitimized by it–piece of cake.

    Abel:   Then you could, too. [laughs]

    Wirth:   That’s a model I can [get behind].

    Abel:   Oh, that’s wonderful.

    Wirth:   Oh my God. Oh my God.

    Abel:   I know. I know. So when you decided to run for Congress and then afterwards for the Senate, was John able to, beyond that one meeting you talked about, was he–?

    Wirth:   [00:32:02] Yes, I used to be in touch with him. He was very eager to know what I was doing and how I was doing with it. Again, I knew that he had this kind of intellectual foot in the door on elected politics. He’d always ask me about it, who was where, and how are you doing, and there were two things that he’d always ask me: to describe what it was, what I was doing, and, “Have you been writing?” I disappointed him on the latter because he really wanted me to write a book, and then write another book, and do this, and I just didn’t have time. I was moving too fast, and I didn’t think I had time, which I didn’t. So those were the two things, so we were always in touch on that front.

    Abel:   [00:32:42] So you remained in touch.

    Wirth:   Then the White House Fellows program and the alumni group, it was a very tightknit group for ten or fifteen years.

    Abel:   So those annual get-togethers?

    Wirth:   Yes, those annual get-togethers.[9] I had done the first one, which we had at the National Portrait Gallery in its early days. We had the first three classes there, and Gardner came to the first meeting. I think that was the first meeting of the White House Fellows Association. He came and we had a lunch together in this beautiful little gallery at the National Gallery. We had gotten to know the people who ran the National Gallery, and he knew them, so they were delighted, and so that was the first event. The White House Fellows used to have and they still have annual meetings. I haven’t been to one in a long time.

    Abel:   [00:33:23] Yes. It’s coming up in a couple of weeks.

    Wirth:   Yes, they still have them

    Abel:   I understand he went whenever he could.

    Wirth:   Yes, I think he did.

    Abel:   Right, and the last one he went to was 1999.

    Wirth:   That was I think at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington. It was a very big event and very moving.

    Abel:   Yes, it was his goodbye, really.

    Wirth:   Yes, it was really his goodbye. I remember Colin Powell was there, spoke that night. I don’t know if I spoke that night. I just don’t remember.

    Abel:   I’ve seen the video, because Jack LeCuyer sent me the videos, but it’s very moving.[10]

    Wirth:   [00:33:55] I just don’t remember, but I remember that it was at that gallery that’s right there across from the White House.

    Abel:   Oh, not the Corcoran? The Renwick? Renwick, maybe.

    Wirth:   At the Corcoran. Yes, it was at the Corcoran.

    Abel:   I’m just trying to attend to the time here. So your decision when you ran for Senate and you were following Gary Hart in that role. Isn’t that correct?

    Wirth:   No, I was running for the seat that was open in the state of Colorado.

    Abel:   Yes, right, but in the sequence of things, yes.

    Wirth:   In the sequence of things, he announced for president, and I was the logical person to get the Democratic nomination.

    Abel:   [00:34:44] So just briefly, just your decision not to run for a second term, I understand–

    Wirth:   Yes, it was just I had had seven campaigns in eighteen years, and each of them were just brutal. When I ran for Congress, the district that I ran in was a Republican district, and running as a Democrat, I was the classic Watergate baby. I wouldn’t have won without Watergate. Again, when I ran, I didn’t know how to run a campaign. I didn’t know anything about it. Then where they came after [me], they thought this was a seat that was theirs, which rightfully it probably was. But I was able to–I had met a lot of people along the way, and I was able to raise more money than anybody else and run a really good campaign, and that’s what we’re having tomorrow night.

    Abel:   [00:35:35] Your reunion.

    Wirth:   We’re having 150 people are coming. My wife was just reviewing the list. She was almost in tears looking at it. She said, “Oh my God. Oh, oh.” [Abel laughs] Amazing.

    Abel:   I bet.

    Wirth:   So that was it. I was just burnt out. I was really good at raising money. I could raise a lot of money. I was just sick and tired of it, and the Senate was changing pretty dramatically at that point, too. The House was a place where there was a tremendous collegiality, and you had the feeling–I think I said this to you once earlier, that in the House you would get together with a group of people, and you’d posse up and go after a problem. Then the next day it would be a different problem. You would go over another ridge. You’d have another posse, and you’d go over a different ridge and see what you could do, if you extend the metaphor further than it ought to be.

    [00:36:32] But it was incredibly interesting, and fun, and flexible, and very creative. Tip was a great leader, and the Senate just moves by inches when it moves at all.[11] The year after I left the Senate, they spent most of the year talking about Bob Packwood and his diaries.[12] It was just so bloody mindless. It just went on and on and on and on, the same thing over and over and over again. The great thing about the Senate was that you could do anything, you could meet anybody. You could call them up and say, “Would you have lunch, or dinner, or whatever?,” and they’d always come. It was fascinating, and we had a fascinating time. Intellectually, it was really interesting, but not because of the Senate.

    Abel:   [00:37:15] Yes, in terms of action–.

    Wirth:   Then I got involved in a couple of [issues], and then really got deeply embroiled in the climate issue, starting in the mid-1980s.

    Abel:   Well, I wanted to ask you about that.

    Wirth:   So that consumed us, and then I did that for the Clinton administration for four or five years..

    Abel:   So that was under Warren Christopher and then Madeleine Albright?

    Wirth:   Yes, well, Warren Christopher.

    Abel:   Right. But yes, you were definitely deeply involved in that, right?

    Wirth:   [00:37:47] Yes, I was really involved, and Madeleine then became [Secretary of State]. Madeleine is from here, you know?

    Abel:   Yes, Denver.

    Wirth:   She and I had known each other for a long time, and she was a really good secretary, and I really learned a lot about it. Warren Christopher could have cared less, as far as I could see, about global issues. I once said to a New York Times reporter, I said, “Warren Christopher wouldn’t know a global issue if he tripped over it.”

    Abel:   Oh, dear. [laughs]

    Wirth:   [00:38:10] Geez, what a stupid thing to say. I was just frustrated with the way the [administration]–.

    Abel:   You don’t want to be on the record saying that?

    Wirth:   Oh, why? I said that. I did.

    Abel:   I know.

    Wirth:   Yes, exactly. I shouldn’t have been on the record saying it, so I had to go in and apologize: “I don’t really do that sort of thing, but I was just–.” Anyway, the Clinton people were okay on climate change, and Gore was there, and he and I were allies from our days in the House and the Senate. So that was relatively interesting, and I did that for five years, almost, a lot of climate change.

    Abel:   Well, and moving things forward with the Berlin Mandate, right? Kyoto?

    Wirth:   [00:38:47] Yes, Berlin Mandate, and then we did the Kyoto Protocol. I had run the major hearings, the first great big hearings on climate with Jim Hansen in 1988.[13]

    Abel:   1988, yes.

    Wirth:   That was a major breakthrough in the climate world.

    Abel:   Well, certainly from the public vantage point, that got tremendous [exposure].

    Wirth:   Yes, it was. That was very important, and then I became involved, and as I say, Gore was just here, so he and I have been tripping over–not tripping over each other, but working on this, one way, shape, or form, for thirty years.

    Abel:   [00:39:22] So then Ted Turner approached you about his mega-gift?

    Wirth:   Yes. I had known Ted because when I was in the House. In 1980, I became chairman of this very large subcommittee at a very early age, and it was the Subcommittee on Telecommunications, which was the Bell system and everything, Consumer Protection, which was automobile safety and so on, and Finance, which was the Securities and Exchange Commission–this vast jurisdiction.

    Abel:   A lot, yes.

    Wirth:   [00:40:00] Anyway, I became chairman because of Jimmy Carter’s conceding the presidential race in the early afternoon of election day. So the minute he conceded, which was a really stupid thing to have done, Democrats just stayed home all across the West, and a number of very senior Democrats in California lost their election because no Democrats voted. Jim Corman [James C. Corman, California Democrat], who was the head of the Finance Committee, Al Ullman [Oregon Democrat] was the head of Ways and Means, and Lionel van Deerlin [California Democrat] who had been the chairman of the Commerce Committee, all lost, and I became chairman of this committee.

    Now the first hearing that I had was on early election returns. After I became the chairman in January, the following January, the first hearing I had was on early election returns, and how do we make sure that people are not making public announcements about an election before the polls are closed?

    Abel:   [00:41:01] Crazy.

    Wirth:   Yes, and that’s now the rule, but there was no such thing. So we had this hearing, and we invited four people, the head of the three networks and somebody from the cable television industry. Of course, the hearing room was filled with press and television cameras because of the fascination of so many communities who had been impacted by early election reporting. So there were three risers of television cameras over on the right. The podium was here, the witness table was here, and we’re sitting up there. The three stuffed-shirted network [officials]: “Well, we have a duty to report under the First Amendment. We have an obligation. If it’s the news, we have to report it no matter when it is.” Just totally ridiculous, and we were just making fun of them for the first hour.

    [00:41:58] Then the cable industry guy came up to testify, and it was Ted Turner. So Ted Turner comes up with that big kind of gap-toothed smile. Mischief was all over his face, and he gets up there, and he’s smiling at everybody. He looks over at all these television cameras, and he takes his testimony, and he rips it in half in front of the television cameras, and then draws on a pad a huge dollar sign, and just turns it around to the cameras.

    I said, “I love that guy.” I said, “Jesus.”

    Abel:   Wow. That’s amazing.

    Wirth:   So we’d known each other a little bit, but here he was, sort of making fun of–this whole thing is only money.

    [00:42:37] So then that legislation passed, and early election returns has largely been observed since. But that was where I first got to know Ted, and then we stayed in touch, and I was very involved in the deregulation of the cable industry, which was headquartered in Denver, of all things.

    Then when I was working at the White House, and he and Jane [Jane Fonda] were very involved in climate activities, and there was a big climate meeting that I had organized at the White House. They were sitting in the front row, and we were scheduled to go out and have dinner with them afterwards at the Four Seasons: Wren, and Ted, and Jane, and me. Of course, being a Clinton event, it went on and on and on and on, and so they left. Ted and Jane left after a while. I couldn’t leave because I was responsible for getting everybody out, and making sure everything was done, and so on.

    [00:43:37] So I got to this place, and they were sitting in the dining room, the old Four Seasons. You came in the room here, and there was a great, big dining room, and then across the back were a couple of smaller rooms and tables way in the back corner. Ted, and Jane, and Wren were sitting at a table way in the back corner, and of course everybody is ogling Ted and Jane.

    Abel:   Oh, yes, of course.

    Wirth:   They come in and they’re, “Oh my God. Oh, look at this. What’s going on here?” [Abel laughs]

    I walked in the door, and Ted had just made the commitment a week earlier to the UN [United Nations], the billion dollars. I walked in the door, and he said, across this room, he says, “Hey, Wirth. You want to run this foundation?” [both laugh] Just classic, absolutely classic.

    Abel:   [00:44:23] Oh my God.

    Wirth:   I wouldn’t be surprised that it was Jane’s idea. I wouldn’t be surprised about it. She and Wren were very tight.

    Abel:   Yes, not to put you on the spot–.

    Wirth:   You know what she’s doing now? She’s now moving to Washington.

    Abel:   Jane?

    Wirth:   Yes, and she’s working on climate. She’s working on climate.

    Abel:   Wow. Good for her.

    Wirth:   She’s going to be running a whole series of climate protests every Friday, like the kids are doing.

    Abel:   She’s a very committed person.

    Wirth:   On Thursday, she’s moving, uprooting everything from California for a while. We just got a letter from her saying this is what she’s going to do.

    Abel:   [00:44:50] Wow. That’s wonderful.

    Wirth:   But anyway, I think it was probably her idea, but that’s where this thing [came from].

    Abel:   That’s how that came to pass, right? You couldn’t exactly say no.

    Wirth:   Out of the blue. What am I going to [say]? It’s like my history of my life, out of the blue.

    Abel:   Well, and I was impressed about the work–I think you said “the interconnectedness of all the elements of our living earth.” That was a quotation from your testimony about the work that the UN Foundation was able to do, connecting all of those dots.

    Wirth:   Well, this is going back to Gardner, too, you see. That’s what it does.

    Abel:   Well, exactly. I was going to ask you that.

    Wirth:   [00:45:22] His vision, and his view, and his ability to take a whole lot of different variables and create a narrative, and a program, and a way you thought about it, was his magic, intellectually. And he had great political instincts, although he wasn’t a practicing politician, to figure out what had to be done; not political instincts in terms of organizing on the Hill, but what had to be done.

    Oh, by the way, the first time I ever went up to Capitol Hill, he sent me up to do something with Jennings Randolph, who was a very senior senator from West Virginia. I went up to see him, and I had to then see Gordon Allott [Gordon Llewellan Allott], who was the senior senator from Colorado. Gordon Allott’s chief of staff or chief legislative person, was George Will [George F. Will]. So I had to go up and give something to him, to Gordon Allott, from Gardner. George Will was the person that I worked with on their staff up there, and he and I got into a huge argument, and that lasted for forty years.

    Abel:   Oh, God.

    Wirth:   I’m not kidding you. He will never forget it. He has never forgotten it. This was what–?

    Abel:   Which was apropos [of]?

    Wirth:   I have no idea, [Abel laughs] but I was probably a cocky little bastard–I  mean, a cocky little fellow.

    Abel:   In those days.

    Wirth:   But anyway, that’s another part of the Gardner legacy.

    Abel:   [00:46:46] Yes, I wondered about that, and whether you, as you were getting more into the climate issues, and staying in touch–.

    Wirth:   Well, this was way before.

    Abel:   Well, but staying in touch with John, and whether your conversations were–whether you [broached it].

    Wirth:   I don’t remember talking with him about the climate issue. I’m sure we would have, but he had more a view of, what I was doing politically, and how I was viewing the institution? He was a very strong institution person, as you know–really believed in institutions, and I turned out to have a pretty good flair for institutions. I learned that from him. How do you nurture these institutions and how important they are?

    Abel:   The connection you also made in your testimony, of course, between the campaign finance reform issues, which remained–that was a drum that he continued to beat–and elected officials being unable or unwilling to grapple with the scientific reality of what we’re facing.

    Wirth:   And the power–but at that point we didn’t [know].  We didn’t realize the power of the fossil fuel industry and how evil they are, just fundamentally evil.

    Abel:   Yes, talking out of both sides of their mouths.

    Wirth:   [00:48:05] Well, no, but look what they’ve done to the world.

    Abel:   Well, yes, absolutely, in the meantime saying they’re great supporters of mitigation.

    Wirth:   Oh, yes: “We started a solar program.” They’re always “BP-sing” or introducing 1,400 solar panels, and they show them. They’re just–compared to everything else.

    Abel:   I know. This tiny, tiny little thing.

    Wirth:   They’re the worst.

    Abel:   So because I know we don’t have much time–when you think about John Gardner, for people who never got to meet him, hear him speak, or anything like that, what are some of the words that come to mind for you about him?

    Wirth:   [00:48:45] I think occasionally in American history and American government, there are individuals who are able, through force of intellect and personality, to really have a very significant impact because they’ve got great vision, or they’re great organizers, or they’re great military people, or they have different reasons for being able to do this, and he was one of those, through force of intellect and through vision. He understood what it is that he wanted to get done, whether it was the new math, or whether we’re thinking about public broadcasting and children’s television, or we’re thinking about campaign finance reform. They were elegantly new ideas and important ideas for the body politic, and he used to speak about the body politic. That’s an old-fashioned phrase, but it’s the case. So I think he was one of those.

    [00:49:39] Lyndon Johnson understood what a powerful ally he had, and I’m sure it was very tough for him. I don’t know what Doris talked to him about. I don’t know if she ever talked to him. We never talked about it, but I remember what impact Gardner’s leaving had on Lyndon Johnson, and you might call Doris and ask her, if you haven’t.

    Abel:   Jack LeCuyer is in touch with her, has shared information about our project with her, and I will ask him about that.

    Wirth:   Why don’t you just call her?

    Abel:   Yes, right.

    Wirth:   You just call her.

    Abel:   [00:50:16] You gave me her number, yes.

    Wirth:   You just call her, because that would be an important interview to do. But he was one of those figures. It’s hard to think of anybody. Clark Kerr was a very big-picture [person].[14] James Bryant Conant.[15] But not very many people are in that class of public intellects. He was a public intellect.

    Abel:   Yes, and a great communicator, not at all academic in his communications, that’s for sure. He had a gift.

    Wirth:   Yes, and he wrote so well. I’ve got all of his books, I think, somewhere. I know they’re in Washington. He was a great man. I was so lucky, just unbelievably lucky–.

    Abel:   [00:51:05] Yes, at that place and time.

    Wirth:   –one to fall into the White House Fellows program, and then to fall into [working with] him at the White House Fellows program, and all of those experiences that came out of having been with him in the secretary’s office.       What I was able to do with the Republicans and how much I learned, and then going, saying, “We can’t do this any longer. I’ve got to go run. We can’t let the bad guys win.” [Please finish this thought] This is after Bobby Kennedy’s assassination. All of that bunched together, and that for me, that ten-year period of time, and as Wren and I have often said, the White House Fellows program was the seminal event in our lives, if you look at anything about us. We’ve done a lot of things, and a lot of interesting things, and been everywhere, and known everybody, and that was the–.

    Abel:   [00:51:52] Flowing from that, right?

    Wirth:   –that was the key creative time.

    Abel:   Yes, I think that’s true for so many of the White House Fellows, certainly those early years. What do you think he would have to say today?

    Wirth:   Oh my God. I don’t even want to think about it.

    Abel:   Right, both the state of politics and the state of the world.

    Wirth:   I wouldn’t dignify the state of politics today with thinking about [him]. He would have said something very eloquent about what we’re losing in our society, but he would have an optimistic theme running out of it, I’m sure.

    Abel:   [00:52:23] Yes, and how he managed to retain that optimism, that core belief in our democracy.

    Wirth:   He was a patriot. He was a patriot.

    Abel:   He was a real patriot. Yes, that’s right. I think he believed, perhaps, that we could weather almost any storm.

    Wirth:   Or that we could.

    Abel:   I don’t know how he would feel today, though. I don’t really know.

    Wirth:   We don’t have any choice but to slog through.

    Abel:   No, I know. So what do you remember about when you knew about his cancer?

    Wirth:   Well, I knew. I’d been to see him a couple of times. Once he told me that he was pretty sick when I visited him in Palo Alto, and then I went to see him, and he could barely move. He was having a really hard time moving around. I didn’t kind of realize what prostate cancer was.

    Abel:   [00:53:11] Yes, and the metastatic part, which is what went into his bones.

    Wirth:   What’s interesting is, I’ve often thought, here he was in a world with the best [medical care]. That doesn’t happen anymore, really. My father died of testicular cancer in 1943, having been kicked by a horse, and that had started all kinds of things that never would [happen today]. He would have survived easily today. I’ve often thought about John Gardner in that [context]. He had prostate cancer, probably didn’t detect it early on. Here he was, next to the most sophisticated medical center in the world, or one of the most sophisticated in the world, but it was here on a level of sophistication, and the science is now here [gesturing two different levels].He came in here, and if he had come in here–.

    Abel:   [00:53:56] The outcome might have been different, yes.

    Wirth:   Yes, I don’t know. I don’t know, but I have often thought about that. He was a young man.

    Abel:   Do you remember when you heard that he had died?

    Wirth:   No, I don’t.

    Abel:   No. I remember your coming out to the memorial at Stanford.

    Wirth:   I came out there, and this is so funny. I came out–this is how people think. I came out and I spoke at the Memorial Church event, and then there was an event here at Georgetown.

    Abel:   [00:54:27] Yes, and one in New York.

    Wirth:   I was asked to speak at the event here at Georgetown, and I said, “Well, I’d be happy to.” So I was just being excessively modest, but I said somebody else ought to. I did it out at Stanford, so maybe somebody else ought to have the opportunity. Bobbie Kilberg–karumph–and grabbed it. [Abel laughs]

    Abel:   Yes, she did, and then of course Bill Clinton, too, right?

    Wirth:   Well, that’s a little bit different.

    Abel:   I know. That was a different story. But Bobbie stepped in, yes. I remember your being out front at the church and greeting everyone, which I thought was so wonderful. You were almost like the head usher.

    Wirth:   Yes, we had a lot of people there.

    Abel:   [00:55:08] There were a lot of people there.

    Wirth:   It was important. It’s important to do.

    Abel:   Yes, that was wonderful. I wish I had been able to go to the other memorials, but I was only at Stanford.

    Wirth:   It wasn’t nearly as good here as the one out there. [Abel laughs]

    Abel:   Pretty special, though.

    Wirth:   I did then a talk for the White House Fellows program on Gardner.

    Abel:   Oh, you did?

    Wirth:   Yes, and Mike Maloney.[16]

    Abel:   When was that?

    Wirth:   [00:55:33] Well, that was soon thereafter, and Mike was in the second class, I was in the third class–and Maloney said that was the best thing anybody has ever written about Gardner. I have no idea what happened to it, but I remember giving that talk, sort of the memorial talk, to the White House Fellows.

    Abel:   Do you know Bill Graham, who’s currently on the board?[17]

    Wirth:   Yes.

    Abel:   He has been advocating strongly for bringing John Gardner back to the core of what the White House Fellows [program is about].

    Wirth:   I agree completely. It’s lost it. They have no idea what this was all about.

    Abel:   Well, I think that may change a little bit.

    Wirth:   [00:56:11] They got to get decent people running the program. The people running it have no more idea–I met with every White House Fellows class from the time that I was elected in 1974 until 2017.

    Abel:   Until after his death.

    Wirth:   No, until–I met with every class until this crew came into the White House.

    Abel:   Oh, my. Really?

    Wirth:   Yes, and I let them know I was available and would be happy to talk about the early days of the program, and what Gardner was about, and why we were there. I never heard a word.

    Abel:   They didn’t take you up on it.

    Wirth:   Never heard a word.

    Abel:   [00:56:44] What a shame.

    Wirth:   I met with–I talked with a woman.

    Abel:   I can see why they’re concerned.

    Wirth:   Jesus. Dreadful people.

    Abel:   Yes, I know.

    Wirth:   Dreadful people. The person that ran it sold shoeshine or something. I don’t know. But Bill Graham’s right. He’s absolutely right.

    Abel:   Yes. He’s apparently been quite adamant about it, and that was the impetus for the meeting I had with them last week, was they wanted to [share information on Gardner].

    Wirth:   They being–?

    Abel:   [00:57:10] They being David Moore, Stephanie Ferguson, and Bobbi [Doorenbos].[18] She’s the one who’s actually organizing this year’s gathering.

    Wirth:   We’re going to be out here, so I can’t go.

    Abel:   It’s focusing on renewal and the mandate of renewal. She’s quite a bit younger, so she hadn’t connected the dots with John’s focus on renewal, and so I was able to give her some materials to help–.

    Wirth:   Well, he had a book, his book on renewal.

    Abel:   Oh, yes, absolutely. That’s right. But I shared with her a speech he gave at the Bohemian Grove in 1982 that is about renewal. It feels extremely immediate, and she’s going to give it all of the Fellows.

    Wirth:   [00:57:59] Great. You ought to get it from David, too, there. Everybody wrote a profile on their fiftieth year, and I wrote a really good profile. It had a lot of Gardner in it. So he’s got that somewhere.

    Abel:   Oh, really. So your own profile?

    Wirth:   Yes. I wrote what the program [was]. I wrote about the program.

    Abel:   Oh, I can ask him, yes.

    Wirth:   He didn’t know anything about it. Maybe Elisa has it.[19] I’ll have to remember to ask her.

    Abel:   Elisa may well have it, which would be wonderful.

    Wirth:   She might have it somewhere. Yes, you ought to get that.

    Abel:   Shall I ask her about that?

    Wirth:   Yes, sure, if you want to. I really have to turn into a pumpkin.

    Abel:   Yes, I know you do. So I just wanted to make sure, is there anything that you would like to share that we haven’t talked about?

    Wirth:   [00:58:40] No, I think we’ve talked about all the good stuff.

    Abel:   We’ve done a pretty good job, I think, yes. Any more anecdotes or anything that you want to make sure are on the record?

    Wirth:   No. I have a feeling that people who were in the White House Fellows early on were younger, which made a big difference.

    Abel:   Yes, that’s true. They were in their twenties.

    Wirth:   Doris was twenty-three; Tommy Johnson [Wyatt Thomas “Tom” Johnson] was twenty-three. They were taking chances on people.

    Abel:   The Kilbergs were twenty-three, twenty-four.

    Wirth:   They were taking chances on people, and now they’re very often older – 35 – people established, going to be generals and colonels. Do they need the program? It has become too much of a search merit badges.

    Abel:   It’s not going to have the same impact on their lives.

    Wirth:   They’re getting merit badges. I fear often they’re not meeting the basic purpose of the program.

    Abel:   That’s right. It wouldn’t have the impact that John anticipated.

    Wirth:   The people running the program have to think about this. I’ve talked to some of the regional panel people. I said, “You ought to take chances.”

    They said, “What?”

    They ought to be given instructions. This is to be, look for the best talent, give them an opportunity, and they can become inners and outers as well.

    Abel:   That’s right.

    Wirth:   [00:59:37] Very important.

    Abel:   Did he ever talk to you about Experience Corps and that idea, about kind of the other end?

    Wirth:   Yes, I guess a little bit.

    Abel:   A little bit.

    Wirth:   But he was always–he had four or five corps going on.

    Abel:   Well, you’re a model with Experience Corps. Thank you so much.

    Wirth:   Thank you.

    [End of Interview with Timothy Wirth – October 4, 2019]

    [1] Susan Hardy Sterling Monjauze and Judith Robinson Sterling Morse

    [2] Editor’s Note: The “principal” is the supervisor/mentor in the White House Fellows program.

    [3] Editor’s Note: Wilbur J. Cohen helped design the Social Security Act of 1935 and was the first professional employee of the Social Security Board. Called back to government from the University of Michigan by President John F. Kennedy, he later became Under Secretary at HEW under President Lyndon B. Johnson, and succeeded John Gardner as Secretary.

    [4] Editor’s Note: Senator Eugene McCarthy, Governor Nelson Rockefeller, and Senator Robert F. Kennedy all managed to inspire and engage large numbers of youth in their campaigns for the presidential nominations in 1968.

    [5] Editor’s Note: After Robert F. “Bobby” Kennedy was assassinated in June 1968, Governor Nelson Rockefeller offered John Gardner the opportunity to take up Kennedy’s now-vacant seat in the US Senate, representing New York. Gardner declined.

    [6] Editor’s Note: Rafferty served as California State Superintendent of Public Instruction from 1963 to 1971

    [7] Editor’s Note: Title I, by far the largest piece of the ESEA, was intended to distribute funding to schools and school districts with a high percentage of children from low income households.

    [8] Editor’s Note: Graham Allison, founding dean of the Harvard Kennedy School, authored Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (1971).

    [9] Annual Leadership Conferences of the White House Fellows Program

    [10] Editor’s Note: Jack LeCuyer, former White House Fellow (1977-78) and longtime Executive Director of the program until 2015.

    [11] Editor’s Note: Thomas Philip “Tip” O’Neill, Jr., veteran Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts, served as Speaker of the House from 1977 to 1987.

    [12] Editor’s Note: Robert William “Bob” Packwood, Republican Senator from Oregon, resigned in 1995 after multiple allegations of sexual harassment. His diary played a significant role in the investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee that eventually led to his decision.

    [13] Editor’s Note: James Edward “Jim” Hansen, was a NASA climate scientist for decades, coming to national and international prominence at these hearings. He sounded the alarm about climate change and its human causes and continues his commitment to climate research and activism from his position at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

    [14] Editor’s Note: First Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley (1952-1957), then President of the University of California system (1957-1967).

    [15] Editor’s Note: President of Harvard University (1933-1953) and first US Ambassador to West Germany (1955-1957).

    [16] Editor’s Note: James P. “Mike” Maloney was a White House Fellow during his tenure at IBM in sales and management.  After leaving IBM in 1969, he became an entrepreneur, embarking on a series of successful business ventures.

    [17] Editor’s Note: William Graham, White House Class of 1966-6767, serves as an At-Large Director on the White House Fellows Foundation Board.

    [18] David S. Moore, Executive Director; Stephanie L. Ferguson, President and CEO; Bobbi Doorenbos, President Elect, all of the White House Fellows Foundation Board of Directors.

    [19] Elisa Travisono Lynch, Special Assistant to Timothy E. Wirth, UN Foundation.

    posted: January 31, 2020
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