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Justice Speeches

Tribute to Gov. James Rhodes
Thomas Joseph Moyer
March 7, 2001

Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer

Governor Rhodes\'s Funeral

March 7, 2001

Sue and Sherry, Dick and Bill, the governor\'s grandchildren and great-grandchildren, other members of the governor\'s family, Gov. Taft, other distinguished officeholders, and friends and associates of Gov. James A. Rhodes.

I have been asked to offer some thoughts on behalf of those who served in Governor Rhodes\'s cabinet, on his staff and in other capacities to help him realize his dreams for Ohio.

I extend our deepest sympathy. We join the celebration of his life and the mourning of his departure from this world.

It was a cold wintry Ohio day. A newspaper lay open on the cabinet room table, a brief story on one of the back pages recounted the flooding of the small river town Dilles Bottom.

The mayor was quoted as saying that they would receive no help from anyone because they are far from Columbus and no one cares about them.

The governor\'s response was quick and it was typical. The next day we were standing on four inches of solid ice in the middle of the living room of a small house in the center of Dilles Bottom.

It had been flooded by the river and then frozen as if to preserve the scene.

A number of townspeople and a couple of cameras crowded into the living room and heard the Governor proclaim that aid would come to the people of Dilles Bottom.

The mayor and the people of a small town in Belmont County could hope that tomorrow would be better than today.

During the past several days I have been asked why was Gov. Rhodes so successful. How was he able to create such a legacy? He was a governor in the twentieth century without a college education.

Surely, he must have cut at least half of his high school English classes. And every now and then he promised more than he could produce.

You have heard much about his legacy. Anyone who has traveled a major interstate highway, attended a state university, a two-year college, a technical school or a vocational school, who has flown to an airport in any of Ohio\'s 88 counties, enjoyed the facilities of a state lodge, attended the largest state fair in the nation, received treatment at one of any number of hospitals, visited a state historical site, consumed clear water and breathed clean air, has benefited from the vision, the dogged determination of Jim Rhodes, the governor.

He had other talents, often overlooked in the shadow of his immense footprint on the political and public landscape. A varsity caliber baseball and basketball player as a young man; a scratch golfer most of his life (although I understand he did not always see the need to play the holes in order); an expert on the big band era-he raised eyebrows in the 1940s when he invited Lionel Hampton to stay at his home overnight.

Equally unconventional was his appointment of African-Americans to the bench in the 1960s.

He loved history-was an expert on Andrew Jackson and wrote a book on Dolly Madison and Mary Todd Lincoln.

He could quote line upon line of scripture from the Bible.

His good friend, Bob Hope, described him as \"The quickest wit I know.\" In fact, he used his keen wit to break tension, to make a point and simply to make people laugh.

He was always genuine, always himself. The owner of the company and the worker on the production line heard the same message from Jim Rhodes.

When asked to define the key to his success, the governor would simply say, \"I work harder than everyone else.\"

That is true, but we who worked for him saw much more. We saw a person who knew how it feels to be poor, to sacrifice even one\'s education to support a parent.

One of his birthdays, we held a surprise party for him in the cabinet room, ordered a handsome cake and invited all of the cabinet to come. We heartily sang \"Happy Birthday,\" noticed that he barely responded and declined a piece of his own birthday cake.

Back in his office, for the first and only time, I saw tears in his eyes. His mother could never afford to have a birthday party for him and our gesture refreshed that difficult memory.

So when James Rhodes talked about jobs he was not simply uttering a political slogan.

He was expressing his belief that being engaged in productive activity enabling one to provide necessities and pleasures for oneself and for family is a fundamental desire and need of most human beings.

He saw government as a vehicle not for producing statistics, but for benefiting the lives of individual people, one by one by one.

The young woman who told him upon his visit to a vocational school in northwest Ohio that she enrolled in a secretarial course in order to get her mother off welfare, impressed him more than the school\'s mission statement.

We are witnessing today the creation of a constructive atmosphere for the development of public policy in Washington, D.C.

Thirty-five years ago, Gov. Rhodes applied his own advice to not be so mad at someone that you can not sit down at dinner with him.

Time and time again he would reach across the divide to draw in even his harshest critics. A member of the General Assembly and a labor union leader who criticized him last week may find themselves in the governor\'s office this week helping to determine the location of a new manufacturing plant.

The leader of the Ohio Senate during the first year and a half of the governor\'s third term was one of his most persistent detractors. I think it\'s safe to say that Oliver Ocasek and Jim Rhodes were not cut from the same cloth, perhaps one from linen and the other from wool.

In the winter of 1978, Ohio suffered a historic blizzard that followed a natural gas shortage the previous winter.

Our relations with the Senate President had been rocky. The governor called on Oliver to help us work through both crises and included him in the regular press briefings he held during the blizzard to give hope to thousands of stranded citizens that help was coming.

I remember Oliver saying that he would be staying in his office until the crisis was over because, \"The governor needs me.\"

Thus began a new relationship that was expressed through trust and mutual respect until Oliver\'s death.

Much of the governor\'s success derived from his extraordinary intuition, common sense and understanding of human relationships.

He taught us the fundamental truth of public administration; if people of good will of differing views will simply talk and listen to each other in good faith, good deeds will follow.

Finally, it is often said of Jim Rhodes that he loved his family. That is certainly true and most political leaders are lauded with the same words.

For Jim Rhodes, the human being, his family was valued above everything - a successful election, the visit of a president, and even the location of Honda in Ohio.

Regardless of the circumstances in the office, a telephone call from Helen, a daughter, or grandchild, always pierced the aura of official business.

At the end of the call, he would sit in reflective silence for a moment and then say, \"Tom, family is everything. If you don\'t have family, none of this matters.\"

Jim Rhodes was a rock but he was not an island. He knew he stood in this life not alone.

And now governor, the bell is tolling. It tolls for thee. It tells us that the time has come to say farewell until we meet again.

We thank you, governor. We thank you for showing us what we may accomplish when we reach out, not push away; when we believe we can, denying those who say we cannot; when we gather our resources not for ourselves but to answer the hopes of others.

You have lifted us as on eagle\'s wings soaring to heights we never imagined. As we continue our flight here, we pray that God is embracing your soul with his love.

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