Monday, April 16, 2007

Flashback: Getting Ready to Go Back to Chicago…but First a Few Loose Ends to Tie Up. Remembrance of Congressional Testimony Past.

[Memoirs from fifty years of politics for my kids and grandchildren].

Having been assured that I could get my old job back as director-public affairs at The Quaker Oats Company, I made plans for what cliché meisters call a “smooth transition” to my successor at the Peace Corps. One job involved picking two national spokesmen—one from the entertainment community and another from public life—to speak and do appearances gratis whenever asked for the organization. The fact that the Peace Corps intended to use a more working class image to encourage more artisans to volunteer…and fewer naïve, idealistic blond ivy league English majors from Northwestern living in Winnetka who want to spread their wings before getting a job in a stock brokerage…I helped make out a list with particular attention to the entertainer. The entertainers wanted to do it on a gratis basis for p. r. reasons and the Advertising Council had offered to do commercials both in print, audio and video. I won’t tell you who my first choice was but imagine my surprise when I strolled over to the Director’s office to meet a man dressed in black which looked like cowboy duds with a ravaged face that looked like it had seen all variants of sin and degredation. A tall athletic hombre with bob-tailed hair who said:

“Hello, Ah’m Johnny Cash!”

Absolutely first rate. My first choice.

I didn’t have a chance to talk much with him but we filled him in on what we wanted and he was very receptive. He said he hadn’t really thought his people were Peace Corps candidates but we said that’s right—but we want them to be. We want lovers of country music, gospel, rock (if it’s clean) telephone linemen, artisans of all kinds. We talked about the appearances he would make: no real sales pitch just a few words and some songs. Whereupon he went to his satchel, got out his guitar. strummed it and with that superbly recognizable, untrained but entirely pleasing voice, did “I Walk the Line.” He said that he never had a first name. His parents in Arkansas (he started picking cotton at age 10) quarreled over what to name him so they agreed on the initials J. R. and never got around to resolving what he’d be called. When he got to the Air Force they made him decide and so he called himself John R. Cash.

Although known for his prison songs, like “Folsom Prison Blues,” he was never in prison long—never longer than an overnight. But by bringing his entertainment to prisons and penitentiaries and recording the inmates’ enthusiasm, he gained national recognition. A once hard-core druggie and alcoholic, he turned to the gospel and was at the height of his popularity when he saw us at the age of 37.

The non-entertainer spokesman turned out to be none other than Neil Armstrong, the first man to land on the moon. He was less outgoing than Johnny Cash, not surprising since Cash was used to the stage—but when we had lunch, Armstrong was voluble although afflicted with terminal modesty, somewhat like another pioneer, Charles A. Lindbergh. About the landing of Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969, Armstrong’s most interesting view was that despite all the excitement the important thing was to continue to work with his co-pilot Buzz Aldrin on the official checklist of tasks, failure to execute any one of which would have been fatal. In particular he said that the way the space vehicle was built, one had to be sure that the latch on the door would remain open by pulling a switch because the thing was self-locking. “Which meant,” he said, “that if you goofed up on that particular, you and your buddy could be outside on the moon with no way to get back to the vehicle all the while the television camera was on you.”

While Johnny Cash was a smash, Armstrong because of his self-limiting modesty was less effective. His later life showed a passion for anonymity and a penchant for suing people including one poor guy who used his portrait as a come-on for a civic function. His wife divorced him because she said he spent so much time on the road she had to make a reservation to see him through his staff. A slight heart attack on a Vail ski slope slowed him down. Of all the astronauts, paradoxically, he is the least understood or well known.

After hearing his story of the imperative to flick the latch on the door, for several years, whenever I had a fever I found myself thinking that I—goof that I am—would have debarked from the space vehicle and had forgotten to trip the latch before exiting so I could get back. Which meant that I would be standing alone on the moon and sniffling tears while back on earth my wife, Lilllian, would say: “I KNEW IT! I KNEW IT! I told him not to forget the latch!”


Before leaving Washington for Ocean City, Maryland and a vacation before resuming at Quaker, I checked with my old buddy at the Commerce Department, the “faceless professional,” David Koch. I asked about the special appropriation which was needed to run the agency. In order to get the appropriation, all of us—Secretary Stans, Abe Venable (the deputy director) and I—had to testify before the House Appropriations subcommittee on State, Commerce and Justice. The subcommittee was run by the blisteringly sarcastic chairman, a tough old bird named John Rooney, Democrat of New York. Rooney, a Brooklyn-born conservative Democrat, had announced that as subcommittee chairman he would strongly oppose the appropriation.

He was not enamored of the civil rights community, being an old-style conservative Democrat. The secretary of commerce himself was terribly nervous about testifying, despite the fact that as a former budget director, he had faced a hostile Democratic fiscal chairman or two during the Eisenhower years. Stans was afraid once again that bad press with Rooney attacking the concept of federal money for minorities would find favor in the White House with conservatives and favor with the southern strategy people in Congress and serve to interfere with his great plans to be promoted to secretary of the treasury.

So Stans had bevies of commerce aides running into and out of his office with books, statistics, graphs—all the things he would need to try to overwhelm Rooney. I offered to be of help since it was my appropriation but with lofty disdain he said he didn’t need help from me: so, okay, fine. In my office I studied Rooney’s history and found something very interesting about it.

Rooney was an old drinking buddy of J. Edgar Hoover who at that time was still running the FBI. When J. Edgar Hoover testified for his appropriation, of course, his request was sent sailing through the committee. There was even a time when Rooney felt Hoover wasn’t asking for enough and so he doubled it, Hoover shyly thanking the chairman. They were that close. In reading the legislative hearings Rooney ran, I stumbled upon a fascinating thing: an entire sheaf marked “Donold Lourie.”

. In 1953 Secretary of State John Foster Dulles took over the department with a kind of electoral mandate to ferret out all the so-called Commies that Joe McCarthy and others had alleged were nested in the place. Dulles was inclined not to do much. Looking around for an under-secretary, a good manager who would run the department when he—Dulles—would be traveling the globe in the Cold War, Dulles decided to hire one Donold B. Lourie. Donold Lourie (yes, he was the only man in the world to spell “Donold” with an “o” instead of an “a,”) was chief executive officer of The Quaker Oats Company and a solid conservative.

Lourie, had been an All-American football star at Princeton. But his was the story of a poor boy who lost his father at an early age and through the hard work of his mother and his own talents went to the ivy leagues and matriculated a smashing success. His mother had been a house mother of sorts at Princeton and as her son he worked his way through school. He was born in Decatur, Alabama in 1899; the family bounced around from state to state—California, Wisconsin, New Hampshire before his mother got the rather modest job of house mother at Princeton University where she became a surrogate mother to students, beloved by the faculty and generally very popular (she died when he was in old age at the age of 101). Don Lourie continued his education with an athletic scholarship to Phillips Exeter at Exeter, N. H. (not too shabby). Then he went to Princeton. At five-feet-eleven weighing 164 lbs. he was not exactly a brute but he became a wiry, mercurial, incredibly resourceful star quarterback for the Princeton Tigers. In his junior year he steered Princeton to a 6-0-1 record.

Quickly in those days long before professional football when college football had become the rage, Lourie was headlined throughout the country as probably the greatest quarterback in the country, tied with the Notre Dame team that featured Notre Dame halfback George Gipp. The northeast sports pages gloried with the story of how he led Princeton to a 21 to 7 victory over Swarthmore with Lourie scoring two touchdowns on 15 and 60-yard runs. In the contest with Yale he was looking around for a receiver, then scampered to a 40-yard touchdown.. One New York city newspaper chronicled the Princeton-Yale battle by the headline: Lourie 20, Yale 0. Accordingly, Lourie, quietly modest with a droll sense of humor, was named by the founder of the All American team, Walter Camp, as his All-America quarterback in 1920, calling him “the remarkable little general , disclosing every weak-point of the opposition.” (Camp had also named Gipp an All-American teammate of Lourie in 1920—three weeks before Gipp died of pneumonia, on December 14).

Lourie the Princeton hero signed up with Quaker Oats which had a great fondness for that university since the Stuart family had gone there. He rose swiftly in the sales area of the company and became president and CEO of the company in the 1940s. By 1953 at age 54 he wanted to try his hand at government and was appointed by Dulles and Eisenhower as the chief operations officer of the State Department. Dulles may have been ambivalent about pushing those whom Joe McCarthy had called the Reds and pinkos out of State, but Lourie wasn’t and Dulles was only too glad to turn the job over to him. Lourie hired a security officer named Scott McLeod from Cedar Rapids, Iowa with whom he had been familiar since Quaker had—and has—a major plant there. Lourie and McLeod started tossing out the security risks—390 separated for loyalty reasons, 6000 jobs abolished, 17,000 suspects transferred to other departments. He was cheered on and Lourie was cheered on by J. Edgar Hoover and Joe McCarthy who was a burr under the saddle for the administration. It was not long afterward that Rooney, the drinking buddy of J. Edgar, became a fan.

So while Stans was researching the statistics on how to appeal to a cantankerous Rooney, I lined up a brief session with Don Lourie who was the company’s chairman back in Chicago, sat down with him over a cup of coffee. In short order, Lourie placed a call to Washington and got Rooney on the line. I listened to his side of the conversation.

“Now, John,” he said, “you and I know that we’ve got to get good people in government to chase all those rascals out whom you and I disposed of fifteen years ago. Well, one of my friends is going to testify before you and he’s scared to death of your reputation, scared you’ll chew him out.”

TFR with Neil Armstrong

A long pause while he listened to Rooney, winking at me all the time.

“What’s his name? Now write it down! You and I are getting so old that unless we do--. Huh? His name is Roeser. R-o-e-s-e-r. He’s been working with me here at Quaker. Huh? Yeah, he’s right here today—just visiting. Here, you talk to him!”

He handed the phone over to me.

“Well,” said Rooney. “You come well recommended. Tell me, Mr. Roeser, what agency are you representing.”

I said: The Office of Minority Business Enterprise.

“Goddamn that’s the one I think is superfluous. Why hell, man, we got a Small Business Administration--.”

I said; Yessir. Well, we think we can--.

Lourie said: “He’s opposed, is he? Give me the phone.”

He said: “Now, goldang it John, don’t you give my boy any trouble down there. It’s not his fault he got picked for that stupid thing. He’s a personal friend. What can you do for him? Huh? What?”

He handed me the phone again: “He wants to talk to you.”

“Listen,” said Rooney. “I love that old guy you’re with, do you understand me? So you’re going to get a pass. Not that goddamned boss of yours, Maury Stans who’s going to testify with you. He lied to us all during Eisenhower and he’s keeping it up. Now, I’m going to give your agency a pass but go after him on the stupid idea of having a United States Travel Agency in the Commerce Department. I’m going to nail him.”

Whatever you say, Mr.Chairman.

“You wouldn’t be embarrassed if I do that, now would you?

Not in the slightest, Mr. Chairman so long as--.

“Don’t worry about it. Now give me back to your boss, Don.”

Lourie took the phone, covered the receiver with one hand and said, “I think this will be a long conversation so I’ll excuse you. Did you get the answer you wanted?”

Sir—I can’t thank you enough. God bless and keep you and Mr. Rooney, too.

As I left I heard Don Lourie say on the phone, “Did you hear that, John? God bless us! What do you think of that?|”

He waved as I left. And I flew back to Washington with a spring in my step.


In the Commerce limo, going to the Hill, Stans stretched his legs out, yawned andsaid: “Now I’ve been through this a hundred times. Are you nervous?”


“Well John Rooney can get very disagreeable at times. But no matter how he insults you, know one thing. The record will not carry as part of its official printing his comments. So he can insult you all he wants but the clerk just reports the good parts and cleans up the bad parts. Understand?”

Testifying for our budget. Left to right: Secretary Stans, TFR and Abraham Venable, deputy director of OMBE


“See, unlike you, I’ve got to defend the whole department. All you have to do is to brief Rooney on your agency. You don’t know politics all that well. If it gets tough, I’ll help you. I don’t imagine he’ll like you much because he’s a tough old conservative even though he’s a Democrat and your reputation is as a liberal even though you are a Republican. Understand?”


“Well, we’ll see.”

As we sat down in the hearing room, the old white haired chairman didn’t give me so much as a nod but glowered at Stans. The committee was filled with grizzled veterans, Democrats and Republicans, all of whom got along with Rooney and enjoyed his repartee which the clerk pretended to take down but which rarely made it in print.

“Let the record show that Secretary of Commerce Maurice Stans who is supposed to be a conservative has come up here with a budget for Commerce that exceeds the wildest expectations of the craziest spenders who ever came down the pike. The total appropriation request is--? What the hell is it? Huh?”

The clerk called the number.

“Really! That high! Well, let the record show that we’re going to hold you accountable, Mr. Stans, for every jot and tittle—I mean every jot and tittle—of that flagrant, over-inflated request. First, who do you have with you?”

Stans introduced me and my deputy Abe Venable.

“Mr. Roeser? Are you the head of that new office of Minority Business Enterprise?”

Yes, Mr. Chairman.

“Let the record show that I think there is a duplication here between the Office of—what the hell is it—Minority Business Enterprise…and the Small Business Administration. But the chair is inclined to value your credentials, Mr. Roeser. If anyone can coordinate the programs around this town you can.”

Stans looked at me with eyes bugged.

“And that is due to the fact that you believe as did your great mentor in private life with whom I’ve been fascinated—and let the record show all decent people should be fascinated--that this government is and has been in dire danger of being eaten from within like termites do with insidious communist or pro-communist fellow-travelers…”

Stans’ eyes trained on me, expanded into goggle status if possible, he trying to fathom what communists I had spotted.

“Mr. Roeser, I suspect you renounce atheistic communism and all its works?”

Emphatically, Mr. Chairman.

“For the benefit of all you on this committee, Republicans and Democrats, Mr.Roeser is a very close personal friend of Donold B. Lourie the president—er, chairman, er president, I don’t know what the hell he is now, chairman I think—of Quaker Oats! And all of you who have been up here for any length of time know that J. Edgar Hoover and I were particularly impressed with the cleanup that Don Lourie did of that nest of horrors at the State Department and his close friend and my close friend Scott McLeod who was victimized by the low-life rascal—I say the low-life rascal—Drew Pearson. Anyone who is a friend of Donold B. Lourie is a friend of mine. I move that Mr. Roeser’s budget be approved and that he be instructed to stay close to us if he needs any more dollars to achieve a very worthy thing so long as he seeks to coordinate all of the 116 programs—too many—that have to do with the possibility of supporting minority enterprise.

“Now, unless the Secretary here wants you to hang around, I would say—and I imagine this subcommittee would agree—that Mr. Roeser can leave right now and continue working on this project. Not you, Mr. Stans. You got to stay here because I’ve got a lot of questions to ask you about other programs you and some egghead liberal may have concocted to soak up the taxpayers money. Would you agree that Mr. Roeser should be excused, Mr. Stans? Yes? Thank you. You are excused, Mr.Roeser.”

When I got back to Commerce after testifying that afternoon, David Koch, the faceless professional, popped in and said, “well, you iced that one! I talked to the clerk and he’s going to get the whole transcript—the real stuff that won’t be printed—in typescript.” Then he gave me this photo of us testifying that morning, courtesy of the Commerce photographic lab.

TFR with the Faceless Professional,David Koch of Commerce

Koch continued. “ Now do you know what happened to your buddy who’s the head of --.”

And he named a particular adversary from Commerce, an agency head who was distinctly displeased that I had been named Director since he had been pushing another candidate.

. I said no.

“Well Rooney chewed Stans out up and down and then they call up you friend, the head of -----. Stans thinks for a time that the heat is off him but then Rooney begins to say this…” and he read from a typed script. I reproduce the typescript now:

ROONEY. “By the way, Mr.___. Before we get to you and your budget, does the number (212) 457-3409 —does that telephone number mean anything to you?”

The response was vague. He didn’t think so. Couldn’t remember.

ROONEY: ‘Can’t remember, huh? Well you call it several times a day so why can’t you remember it? Does that mean you need a telephone book every time you call? You call it on the government line which means the taxpayer is paying for your call. Come on, Mr. ___, is it your wife? Is it your wife? No? Of course not! She lives with you in Maryland, doesn’t she? Is it your mother? No, she passed away some time ago I understand. Well the research people here were interested in who the number belongs to, Mr. ___ so we enlisted the FBI, which is very close to us up here, Mr. ____ which got the help of the Chesapeake & Potomac telephone company here and in no time at all…why in no time at all…we discovered that the number is listed to a Miss—a Miss let me see I got her name here, let the record show, a Miss Roberta Ann Coburn—but she goes by the name Bobbie. Now, is she a relative of yours, Mr._____ or a friend of your wife’s maybe? The FBI talked to her and she was, well, fairly evasive. She has a high regard for you, though.

“We have totaled up the cost of those phone calls to the person you couldn’t remember, Mr. ___ and the clerk has the tally here. Let me remind you that the federal statute disallows personal phone calls…long distance phone calls…unless you have the permission of the Secretary on all this. Let me ask Mr. Stans. Did you give him permission to call Miss Bobbie Coburn in New York City?”

STANS. No, I certainly did not, Mr. Chairman.

ROONEY: Do you know Miss Bobbie Coburn of New York City, Mr. Secretary?

STANS; Not in the slightest, Mr. Chairman.

ROONEY: Then let the record show goddammit Mr. Secretary that there is and has been a lamentable lack of control of personnel in your department—let the record show that. I am going to ask the committee to hold this portion of the budget in abeyance and indeed, given that Mr. ____ will pay the bill for the calls to Miss Bobbie Coburn, he will come back here with a revised budget—come back here along with you, Mr. Secretary. Right now it’s time for lunch. Recessed to be reconvened at 1:40 p.m. Then we’ll talk to Mr. Stans about other expenditures in his department including one that I am going to concentrate on—the United States Travel Agency whatever the hell that is. My advice is, Mr. Secretary, to bring along a sandwich for dinner as we’ll be here a long time. [Laughter]. Recessed.

“Ah,” said David Koch. “I’ll have the full typescript soon. Too bad it won’t be published. But use it for your memoirs. By the way the secretary has left word that he wants to be alone for the rest of the day and not to be disturbed in case you were going to disturb him.”

I wouldn’t think of it.


Talking with David Koch just before I left town after resigning the foreign service, he said the budget I testified for some six months earlier was not only approved but Rooney had added several millions of contingency to it. Courtesy Don Lourie. So I went to Ocean City with some satisfaction, believing I would never see Maurice Stans again. That to make an understatement was far from the case.

On the way back to Washington from Ocean City—on the way to Chicago and Quaker—I stopped to join the group I worked with at Commerce and Peace Corps which hosted to a steak dinner for all of us. The photo here with him is the last time I saw him—until the funeral some years later. David Koch, the faceless professional, Bill Geimer the loyal aide at Commerce, Johnny Johnson the 6 foot 5 ministry student who cried all over Lynn Townsend’s suit were all there. But one fellow I wish was there wasn’t.

That would be Donold B. Lourie is my idea of not just one of the greatest quarterbacks who ever lived, a great CEO for Quaker but a 1000% great American. He died in Florida in 1989 at the age of 90.

The next week I started back at the old stand in the Merchandise Mart—with Quaker Oats.


  1. George Gipp had been scouted to play baseball for the Chicago Cubs following his graduation from Notre Dame. His death prevented him from doing so, but it did lead to one of Ronald Reagan's best remembered film roles.

  2. Hello Mr. Roeser,
    I, and my family, enjoyed reading your commentary re Donold B. Lourie, our grandfather and great grandfather. Thank you. What a wonderful man he was. We miss him very much.
    It is said that the Bears approached him to join them after he graduated from Princeton in '22, but he chose to go into business.