CONTENTS The Measure of the Man
Montana, His Way
A Sense of Space
AROUND THE OVAL
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
About the Montanan
The Measure of the Man
The Character of Mike Mansfield
by Paul Lauren
Montana, the nation and the world mourn the loss of Mike Mansfield, who died October 5, 2001, of congestive heart failure at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Maureen Mansfield preceded him in death September 20, 2000.
Paul Lauren delivered the following tribute at UMs celebration of Mansfields life, October 17. Lauren knew the Mansfields nearly thirty years and was the founding director of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center. He is Regents Professor of History at UM.
Much has been said and written about Mike Mansfield since his death, particularly about his extraordinary accomplishments at The University of Montana, in the U.S. Congress, and in his service as U.S. ambassador. As we pause to reflect the legacy of this remarkable man who was in our midst, it might be useful to consider that it was his accomplishments that made him impressive — but it was his character that made him great.
A number of years ago, I had the pleasure of eating a dinner with Mike and Maureen Mansfield at the ambassadors residence in Tokyo. At the end of the meal, Maureen and I sat down with each other on the sofa and engaged in a wonderful and long-ranging discussion. I asked her directly at that time what she believed would be her husbands greatest legacy. Without the slightest hesitation, she looked at me and responded: His character. What will make him great is the person that he is and his contributions to ethics in the conduct of public affairs.
Maureens judgment was sound and solid as a rock. It firmly and wisely guided our actions in creating the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center, and helps to explain why we first focused on the subject of ethics in public affairs. It also helped me to understand just what a privilege it was to personally experience the measure of the man — the character — of Mike Mansfield.
One of his most important character traits was his genuine humbleness. To be truly accomplished and to be genuinely humble at the same time is a rare quality. His satisfaction came from within and he disliked drawing attention to himself. He was modest and unpretentious, quick to pour a cup of coffee himself for any visitor in his office, to give praise to others, to allow them to take credit for achievements, and to give them the opportunity to hold center stage. During the negotiations surrounding civil rights legislation, for example, he allowed the daily press conference to be held not in his office, but in that of Senator Everett Dirksen, the Republican Minority Leader. Why? Because he believed it would be good for the country as a whole. This is what made him great.
Mike Mansfield also was loyal. He was loyal to his wife, Maureen, and to their long marriage together. He knew that it was she who had taken him out of the mines of Butte, she who had urged him to go to The University of Montana to make something of himself, she who had sold her life insurance policy in order to raise enough money to make it all possible, and she who was his constant adviser and companion. Their love was something truly beautiful to behold as he gently took her hand or she took his arm for support. He was loyal to The University of Montana. In every conversation that I ever had with him, on any subject, sooner or later I knew that this life-long teacher and former professor, whose photograph still hangs in the Department of History today, would ask about the students at the University. He was loyal to the state of Montana and loved it and its people dearly. He spoke poetically about the landscape of the mountains and the plains, and in every town (no matter what size) he knew someone by name.
He was also loyal to his country. He was an American in the most meaningful sense of the word: When our country was at its best, he was quick to praise it; when it erred and strayed from its true values, he refused to simply criticize from the sidelines, but instead rolled up his sleeves and worked to fix the flaw. His sense of the difference between right and wrong, for example, explains why he played a monumental role in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in order to guarantee that all people would be provided with equal protection under the law regardless of the color of their skin.
His compassion for the well-being of others explains why he worked so hard to pass legislation providing medical care for the sick, assistance for the poor, education for those who desperately needed it. His commitment to the country and the Constitution explains why he created the Senate Watergate Committee and established the Select Committee on Intelligence to help return the nation to its principles of accountability by those who govern and to reaffirm that no one is above the law in a democratic society. This is what made him great.
Similarly, Mike Mansfield was an honest man with a profound sense of the difference between right and wrong. His firm and steady handshake, even in old age, was his bond. He was not afraid to tell the truth. It is always easy to tell the truth to someone who wants to hear it. It takes courage, on the other hand, to tell the truth when you know in advance that the listener does not want it at all, especially if they happen to be the President of the United States. Because he was honest, and because he was a man of principle, people trusted him, even if they were on opposite sides of an issue. One of the most impressive features of his funeral in Arlington National Cemetery was seen in the fact that nearly half of the members of the U.S. Senate — Democrat and Republican alike without distinction — completely stopped work and came to honor him. Years before when he retired from Congress, his colleagues described him as the conscience of the Senate, and praised him for setting an inspiring example of the very highest standards of principled public service and in demonstrating a moral leadership which reflects the ideals and finest traditions in our country. This is what made him great.
All of these character traits revealed that he was a truly humble, loyal and honest person. He was a genuine human being who knew himself — and this is what people sensed when they met him. He was the real thing, and they knew it. This explains why presidents, prime ministers, Japanese emperors, secretaries-general of the United Nations, senators and congressmen, ambassadors, civil rights activists, wealthy investors, impoverished students, housewives, generals and admirals, peace protestors, veterans, journalists, Native Americans, ranchers and farmers, high school students with Montana t-shirts visiting Washington, and customers sitting on the barstools at the Ox all felt comfortable in his presence. They all sensed that they could connect with him as a real person, and they were absolutely right.
Mike Mansfield was a great man who graced us and taught us and made us proud with his character, and we are all the richer for it.