Saturday, September 17, 2011

An Industrialist and Public Servant Passes

For political history buffs and junkies, it was announced today that former Senator Charles (Chuck) Percy died. Most of the obituaries I read glossed over what I thought were the most important parts of his life. First, he was a self-made industrialist. His family suffered like so many others during the depression. His mother had a young Chuck Percy sell sugar cookies door to door.  While attending school he held several jobs.  His determination and drive caught the eye of Joseph McNabb, the president of Bell and Howell. Bell and Howell in the 30s was a small company that manufactured cameras.

Sen. Percy started working for the company in the early 40s, left to serve in the Navy during World War II and returned in 1945.  He became president in 1949, just shy of the 30th birthday. 

Bell and Howell prospered under his 15 year tenure as president.  Sales increased 32 fold, employment 12 fold and the company was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. He subsequently earned millions in stock and salary.

In the 50s and 60s he served in various appointed positions within the GOP.  In 1964 he ran for governor of Illinois, he lost in the Johnson landslide.  Undeterred, he ran for Senate in 1966.  He won that race.  He went on to win two more terms, but was defeated for reelection in 1984. 

Most of the rest you can read in various obits.  What is missed or should get more emphasis is:

·     He was called a liberal republican. I disagree. On social issues he was more of a libertarian. On economic issues, he had faith in the free market. After all, he was a very successful businessman and self-made and millionaire.  He understood every aspect of manufacturing. He was no fan of regulation.
·      He had a deep baritone voice. He could and would laugh at himself.
·     He became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1981. He hired a non-political staff and believed that foreign policy was not a partisan issue.
·     When he was responsible for recommending U.S. Attorneys, he took it very seriously and suggested highly competent individuals. Several of his choices went on to conduct serious corruption investigations resulting in convictions and jail time.
·     He called for an independent counsel to investigate Watergate. His reason was the White House could not be necessarily trusted to investigate itself. He was right.  As a result, President Nixon added him to the famous “enemies” list.
·     In a couple of Senate oral histories, people consistently commented on how thoughtful Sen. Percy was as an individual.  He was kind and courteous. 
·     Finally, he was a devout Christian Scientist.  He did not drink or smoke.  He would attend cocktail and other parties, but he did not touch alcohol.
A previous post noted that former Senator Mark Hatfield died. They were both elected in 1966.  Both had unique backgrounds. Senator Hatfield was an educator. Senator Percy was a successful and self-made business man. In addition, Senator Percy made his fortune in manufacturing. We need more people with his background, individuals that understand markets, hiring, and creating wealth. Senator Percy, your unique expertise was and will be missed.

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