Interviewsand Articles

 

Mike Mansfield and the Power of Integrity

by Kathleen Branagan, Dec 11, 2014


 

 

Mike Mansfield worked with some of the world's most powerful people as the longest serving majority leader of the United States Senate. Under tremendous pressure he maintained an open and inquiring intelligence, an ability to listen, an uncompromising integrity and a quiet humor. Working for Senator Mansfield I was inspired by his example. I began to realize that it was essential to listen to what people said and not only to what I wanted to hear. I saw that help was available if I had the capacity to be open to it.
--Kathleen Branagan


I had lunch last week with the man I think may be the greatest living American…Mike Mansfield, the former Senate Majority Leader and Ambassador to Japan. One thing I know for sure. There are few American lives that match the one Mansfield has lived.
--David Broder, The Washington Post, 2000[1]

I did not intend to write about Senator Mansfield. He simmered inside for 45 years. Then two years ago he began to reveal himself and I realized what he meant to me. I began writing.
     I’ll start with Peggy. She sent Christmas cards in July, ate banana cream pie while talking to Ted Kennedy, and she said “ain’t.” She propelled herself through the office like a roto-rooter on short stout legs, had a razor-sharp mind, and she either liked you or she didn’t.
     When I first met Peggy DeMichele in Washington D. C. in 1969, she was the longest-serving and only female administrative assistant working for a United States Senator. For almost thirty years she devoted her prodigious talent and energy to Mike Mansfield, a democrat representing the state of Montana. Her devotion to Mansfield came out of a passion they shared for providing the highest level of service to their Montana constituents. Underneath that passion, perhaps, was a deprivation early in their lives, different for each of them. They transformed these early experiences into a fierce commitment to honesty, integrity, and service. They pointed the way for me, as they did for many.
     With Peggy’s help and with his wife, Maureen, by his side Mansfield became a legendary figure. For example, a republican governor helped raise funds to erect a statue of Mansfield and Maureen in the Montana Capitol building while they were still alive. Mansfield conceived and brought about the creation of the Watergate Investigation Committee, enlisting Sam Ervin to head the investigation. The work of this committee led to Nixon’s resignation. As the leading senate authority on Asia, he personally advised all four Vietnam presidents to withdraw from that disastrous war. He considered the ongoing loss of life there his greatest failure.
     His other legislative accomplishments during thirty-three years in congress were remarkable. They included his playing a key role in the senate’s passage of landmark civil rights legislation, spearheading an effort to bring the CIA under legislative scrutiny, and he was indispensible to Nixon in opening relations with China. When Oberdorfer asked Mansfield for his most satisfying legislative achievement Mansfield replied immediately, “Saving Flathead Lake.” In the 1940s he battled the Army Corps of Engineers in Montana to prevent them from raising the dam at the lake, flooding several towns and 50,000 acres of farmland. This was the most politically important thing he did at home, remembered by Montanans for decades. To add to his accomplishments he made notes of all his meetings with presidents and other key leaders. Mansfield amassed and bequeathed the most extensive record of any congressional leader in recent times. Mansfield achieved, in a lifetime that spanned the 20th century, a moral authority and a bipartisan respect that have virtually disappeared from political life today.
     I had the good fortune to know both Peggy and Senator Mansfield. I can still see the two of them talking together in the office: Mansfield, tall and lanky; Peggy, short and plump; he, a man of few words, relaxed in his body, smoking his pipe, eyes dancing; she, a whirlwind of words and gesture, her slip hanging below the hemline of her dress, her laughter wholehearted. It was the environment they created around them more than their striking contrasts and style that stays in my memory: an easy, trusting atmosphere, charged with intelligence. Something new, something about what a relationship could become. It was a gift.
     Don Oberdorfer’s superlative biography entitled, Senator Mansfield, The Extraordinary Life of a Great American Statesman and Diplomat, was also a gift. I have drawn liberally from this biography. Oberdorfer’s respect for Senator Mansfield, along with his extensive research into Mansfield’s life, reflect the quality of the man he brought to life so beautifully.
     In 2000 the Missoulian named Mansfield along with Maureen the most influential Montanans of the 20th century.

Whenever a Montanan was in the service and something needed to be done, a message, a leave, Montanans knew that Mike would make it happen. He is and always has been for many of us that magical person who knew the ways of Washington, but embodied the core values we aspire to. He navigated through the sometimes twisted hallways of power in order to make our lives better….In his public life he connected with us like few others have.
--Steve Doherty, Democratic leader of the State Senate[2]

Mansfield’s early life hardly portends greatness. His mother died when he was young. His father, Patrick, sustained a serious injury at work and was hospitalized for two years. Unable to care for his three young children, Patrick wrote to his Uncle Richard who owned the Mansfield Grocery Store in Great Falls, Montana. Richard’s wife, Margaret came to New York City and took Mike and his two younger sisters back to Great Falls. Oberdorfer tells us that he found his aunt stern and demanding and sometimes took his frustration out in the school yard. One day Bill Scott, an older boy, broke Mike’s nose. As Mike sat bleeding and in pain he must have had a realization. He never resorted to aggressive behavior again. As he matured he gradually transformed it into an inner fire that helped make him one of the great leaders of the 20th century.
     However, Mike ran away from home so many times he spent the sixth grade in a home for runaway boys, something he later talked about with good humor. In 1917, at the age of 14, he left home for good. He rode the rails, eventually arriving in New York City. He asked his father to sign enlistment papers for the Navy. Patrick refused. Undeterred, Mike found a copy of his birth certificate and changed the birth date from 1903 to 1900. He enlisted in the Navy at 14 and served as a seaman in World War I. It was with the Marines in 1922 that he first visited China. This eventually turned out to be most fortunate for our country. Mansfield became, for more than fifty years, a leading expert on Asia.
     After World War I he moved to Butte, Montana, where he survived nine years working underground in the Anaconda Company copper mines. Oberdorfer tells us that danger from fires, such as the fire in 1917 that killed 166 men, and from falling earth which killed many miners instantly, was part of daily life. This life of constant danger gave rise to a miner’s expression about the use of dynamite underground: “Tap ‘er light.” Mansfield used this expression on many occasions throughout his life.
     It was in Butte in 1928 at the age of 25 that he met Maureen Hayes. Maureen had earned a Master’s Degree, unusual for a woman at that time, and was from a wealthy Butte family. Their partnership changed Mansfield’s fortunes dramatically. In the beginning her father understandably opposed the relationship. Mansfield had not completed the eighth grade. Within five years, with Maureen’s financial, emotional and moral support, he earned a Bachelor’s Degree from the School of Mines and a Master’s Degree from the University of Montana in Missoula. Over the next ten years he became a well-loved and respected professor of history.
     Theirs was a remarkable seventy-three year marriage. It was Maureen who insisted that he get a college education and later that he run for Congress. She had implacable confidence in her husband’s natural abilities and in his incorruptible character. Throughout their long life together, “Mike,” as he was known in Montana, consistently gave Maureen credit for his accomplishments, calling her his “lifelong inspiration.” Not having known his mother he expressed surprise that such a relationship could exist.
     I never knew Maureen personally. Her profound influence on Senator Mansfield was sensed and felt by everyone in the office. We all benefited whether we knew it or not.
     The secret of his success, Peggy believed, was that this unpretentious, unassuming person “made everybody feel that they were more important than he was.” [3]


My relationship with Senator Mansfield and Peggy began on a June afternoon in Helena, Montana in 1969. Sitting with my friend, D’Ann, in her living room, I contemplated the money situation. In six weeks I would leave Montana for Washington D.C. to begin a graduate program in counseling at George Washington University. I needed a job when I got to Washington, and quick.
     D’Ann’s voice interrupted my thoughts.
     “There’s an article here about Mike Mansfield,” she said, looking up from The Helena Independent Record. “He’s been in Congress every term since 1943!”
     “Since 1943? I know my dad likes him. Even some of the republicans support him.”
     “Pretty impressive,” said D’Ann, “especially in Montana where we shoot first and argue later.”
     “Very funny.”
     We laughed. Talked about the weekend. Suddenly out of nowhere, I heard myself say:
     “I’m going to write to Mansfield and ask him for a job.”
     “What? Are you serious?”
     “Yes. Hand me a tablet and pen.”
     One page. Handwritten. The letter went something like this:


Dear Senator Mansfield:
My name is Kathleen Branagan. I grew up in Big Sandy. I graduated from Carroll College in Helena last year. I’m coming to Washington D.C. in September to begin a Master’s program in counseling at George Washington University. I am writing to ask you for a job for the 1969-70 school year.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Sincerely,
Kathleen Branagan

Eight days later a letter arrived from Mansfield’s office. It went something like this:

Dear Kathleen,
I read your letter with interest. I am happy to offer you a job during your stay in Washington. My administrative assistant, Peggy DeMichele, will be in touch with you in a few days to make the necessary arrangements.
Sincerely,
Mike Mansfield

I read and re-read the letter. D’Ann read the letter. I had the strange feeling Mansfield himself had signed it. (Turns out he did.) Peggy called a few days later. At the end of the conversation she said, “Well if you want when you get here you can stay with my husband, Joe, and me ‘till you find a place.”
Really?
     Late August found me driving my old, yellow International Harvester pick-up truck from Montana to Washington D.C. For a girl from a town of 800 people, dominated by sky, bars and distance, driving through the Capitol that first time was both alien and exciting. I could sense the dormant energy that exploded later that year as thousands of Vietnam War protestors poured into Washington. Arriving at Peggy and Joe’s lovely home in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, I parked the truck and rang the doorbell.
     A stocky woman opened the door. She reminded me of a leprechaun, her red hair fading to grey. She squinted at me behind her glasses. No hello. No introductions. She spied the truck. As I stared at her, her face turned red and her whole body seemed to light up and shake. I wondered for a moment if she were going to levitate. “You drove that junker all the way from Montana?” she squealed.
     Then laughing and still shaking, she said, “Come on in!”

Mansfield is the most decent man I’ve ever met in public life….He’s fair. His word rates in fineness above the gold at Fort Knox.
--Hugh Scott, Republican Minority Leader [4]

“Pulling the dead people”--that’s what we called the job Peggy assigned to the newest person in the office--in this case, me. My job was to read through the obituaries in the major Montana newspapers and underline the name of the deceased and the next-of-kin. Then, clipped obituaries in hand, I sat in front of rows of wooden card files looking for matching names. The office made a card for every Montanan Mansfield met or knew about. Each next-of-kin received a condolence letter signed by Mansfield, often including a handwritten note. Two of my sisters, Barbara and Colleen, worked for Mansfield after I left. He walked into the office one morning as Colleen bent over the tiny obituary print.
     “Not the liveliest job,” he quipped.
     True enough but the atmosphere in the office was lively enough. Peggy clucked and fussed, always looking out for “the boss,” as she called Mansfield. She was comfortable in her skin, playing a high-stakes game. Walking through her office one day I saw her at her desk eating banana cream pie again and talking fast. That day it was not Ted Kennedy, it was Roger Mudd, the well-known news commentator, who sat across from her, listening attentively. Mansfield was the Majority Leader of the Senate at the time. A steady stream of supplicants, applicants, and colleagues walked through the door. The gatekeeper was a match for them all. No one got to Mansfield without Peggy’s approval.
     One evening I was working late on a project, having graduated from pulling the dead people. The door to the hallway opened and Senator Mansfield walked into the office. He came to the back of the room where I sat.
     “Do you have time to take a walk with me?”
     “Yes sir.”
     "Give me five minutes.”
     “Yes sir.”
     I sat in my chair, heart beating fast.
     He went into his office then reappeared. I managed to join him in front of the door to the hallway.
     “Thought you might like a tour of the scenery.”
     We walked out into the hallway of the Old Senate Office Building. I looked up at him. His face was kind, his manner calm, the smell of his pipe tobacco comforting. He walked along pointing out things about the building. “There’s the secret elevator for escaping senators,” he said, eyes twinkling madly as he put his pipe back into his mouth.
     I tried to match his walk. His pace was easy, helping me settle down. We boarded the underground subway to the Capitol building. Once we sat down he turned toward me.
     “Peggy tells me you grew up in Big Sandy.”
     “Yes sir.”
     “When were you home last?”
     “In August just before I came here.”
     “What are your folks’ names?”
     “Glen and Ann Branagan.”
     “Is your father a farmer?”
     “No, he runs the Hi-Way Chevrolet garage. It’s right on Highway 89 and he drives a school bus on the Coal Mine Road.”
His eyes lit up.
     “The Coal Mine Road. Was there actually a coal mine?”
     “Yes, I think so. Not for a while, though.”
     Do you have brothers and sisters?”
     I have five sisters.”
     “Five! No brothers?”
     “No sir.”
     Silence.
     “There’s a blessing in that.”
     I remembered my cousin, Dick, killed in Vietnam.
     More silence.
     “What do you think of Montana?”
     “Oh I love the land and the sky. Sometimes I just lie down in a field and look up.”
     He nodded. Sat very still. My words rang in my ears as they turned red. I did miss it, though, the land and sky. Still do.
     We continued on. By now we were walking in the Capitol building. The marble, the grandeur helped me to find my feet. Walking with Senator Mansfield became more real.
     “Do you know how the wheat crop turned out around Big Sandy this year?”
     Pause. “It rained and hailed while I was home. I know the farmers weren’t happy about it. I’m not sure about the harvest.”
     He nodded again. More silence. Less uncomfortable. “What were folks talking about when you were home?”
     “They talk about the weather a lot, especially at harvest time. My dad told me about a fire he helped fight in a wheat field south of town. He said lightning struck the ground all around, rolling itself into fire balls that tore around the field starting more fires. He’d never seen anything like it.”
     “I’ve heard of that. Never seen it.”
     We boarded the subway back to his office. I was breathing more easily not wanting our time together to end. And there was something else: something more than the surprise and delight of spending an hour with Mike Mansfield.
     It came to me later that he talked only when he wanted to talk and said only what he meant to say. I’d not met anyone who could do that. It affected me deeply, especially during the silences. Later I learned that he anguished over the ongoing loss of life as the war dragged on, suffered deeply his inability to influence a withdrawal of troops. It was known that he carried a card in his shirt pocket with the tally of the dead. He had a lot on his mind.
     We stopped in front of the office door.
     “Thank you,” he said taking his pipe out of his mouth shaking my hand.
     “Thank you, sir.”

Although among the most visible and admired figures of 20th century American Politics and diplomacy he was a man of genuine humility who rejected all pretension and claims to greatness, which, in the view of all who knew him made him all the greater. [5]

Montana was a sparsely populated poor state, far from the power center of Washington D.C. Politics in Montana could be extremely partisan and bitterly divided. Historians and political scientists alike marveled at and sometimes envied Mansfield’s ability to float above the fray and become a widely respected even beloved figure. Between 1943 and 1976 he won all but one election easily, refusing for years to spend more than $2,000 on a campaign, giving whatever was left over to candidates in need. When he made friends with a wealthy Montana mining magnate Mansfield directed his office to refuse all contributions from him.
     His affection for the people of Montana was real. During our walk, the way he inquired about us made that clear to me. My sister, Barbara, who worked in the office after my sister, Colleen, remembers the day a man and his wife walked into the office dressed in their farm clothes. Peggy greeted them with a smile and asked what she could do for them. The woman responded, “Five years ago Aunt Martha died. A letter came from here and told us to see him if we needed help. Well, we need some help back at the farm.”
     Peggy smiled again, “Please have a seat. I’ll send someone over to the Majority Leader’s office to see if Senator Mansfield is available.” Half an hour later Mansfield walked in the door shook hands with each of them warmly and invited them into his office. He listened to their problem and put them in touch with someone in Montana who could help.
     The people, the beauty, and the unforgiving demands of climate and isolation resonated in him. After living in many places during his long life, he said that he felt most at home in Butte, where he had risked his life daily in a hardscrabble, tough mining town. My parents also lived many places in their long life together. Both of them said that Big Sandy, the tiny town where they struggled to keep food on the table for six kids, where winter could last for six months and temperatures could range from 50 degrees below zero to 110 above zero, was home.
     Mansfield’s genuine interest in responding to the needs of his constituents along with a lack of personal ambition contributed greatly to his accomplishments and his legacy. The office with Peggy at the helm had a friendly atmosphere, was extremely efficient, and was always focused on taking care of the home folks. Peggy told Don Oberdorfer that Mansfield read every letter sent to him from Montana and signed each response in his own hand. She went on to say that no request from Montana was too insignificant. She told about a boy from Billings, Montana, who wanted to compare snow from different parts of the country for a science project. “So we found a way to pack up some Washington snow and sent it to him.”
     In 1964 facing an aggressive republican opponent, Mansfield traveled to Montana many times, visiting many small towns, walking the streets, rounding up a few people for coffee at a local café. He wrote down requests on the spot, sometimes on the back of a book of matches. These were sent on to the office for action. “He met a lot of everyday people, rather than concentrating on people in powerful positions,” Peggy told Oberdorfer. Mansfield won 64% of the vote that year, carrying fifty-one of the fifty-six counties. Senate GOP leader Everett Dirksen, who had worked closely with Mansfield on civil rights, was quoted as saying he would go anywhere to campaign for republican candidates, even to the moon, but “please don’t ask me to go to Montana.”
I remember a story that circulated in the office about one of his Montana visits. Mike was not known for his sartorial splendor. Reportedly he walked unannounced into a small-town bar one night. He wore a rumpled overcoat and probably his shoes and hat had seen better days. The owner of the bar looked at him, decided he was an unsavory character and demanded that he leave. One of the establishment’s customers asked the owner if he had any idea who he’d just thrown out of his bar.
     “No idea and couldn’t care less.”
     “That was Mike Mansfield!”
     The proprietor hustled out the door offering Mike a drink on the house as they came back inside together a few minutes later.
     Mansfield was blessed with a prodigious memory. Oberdorfer writes that Greg Morgan, a junior aide to the senator, watched as Mansfield greeted by name two women from Montana in the halls of the Capitol. He had not seen either of them in 15 years. After his senate career Mansfield served as the Ambassador to Japan. An embassy official watched with amazement as he greeted a large group of Montanans traveling in Asia, calling each of them by name, asking questions about their family and friends. “When you’re a politician, you remember people’s names.”
     He refused to see lobbyists from anywhere other than Montana. If someone from Montana asked for an audience Mansfield met with them, listened carefully, and granted requests only when his inner compass told him it was the right thing to do. He seemed to keep his opinions in perspective, allowing room to hear something new. He once said that he “didn’t take himself too seriously, and tried to listen to both sides of an issue.” Mansfield was an approachable and respected figure for the news media. He was never a source of gossip or self-promotion, although he sometimes frustrated interviewers, responding to questions with “yup,” “nope,” or “don’t know.”

Mike Mansfield had a sophisticated understanding of politics and international relations, but he also understood and mastered the power of simplicity. He was among the simplest of men in his life style, and he advanced simple, honest and straightforward positions in unadorned speech that left no doubt of where he stood. [6]

Mansfield had a personal relationship with all three Kennedys and an especially close one with President Kennedy. As the Democratic leader of the Senate Mansfield was in intimate and continual communication with the President Kennedy and his staff. Their friendship did not prevent him from disagreeing with Kennedy about our escalating involvement in the war in Indochina. Oberdorfer reports 145 meetings between 1961 and 1963, the last a breakfast at the White House on November 20, the day before Kennedy left for his ill-fated trip to Texas.
     A few hours after Air Force One landed at Andrews Air Force Base carrying Kennedy’s body, Jacqueline herself telephoned Mansfield to request that he and he alone present a eulogy at the national memorial service scheduled for November 24 in the Capitol rotunda. Taking their theme from a report that Jacqueline had placed her wedding ring in her dead husband’s hand at the hospital in Dallas, Mansfield and his aide, Frank Valeo, wrote a eulogy for the slain president in poetic meter. He delivered it in the high rhetoric of his strong, spare voice, in direct and emotional words that discomfited some listeners and greatly consoled others--among the latter, Jacqueline Kennedy.
     The eulogy over, Oberdorfer tells us, he walked across the great rotunda and handed Jacqueline the manuscript. “How did you know I wanted it?” she asked. Mansfield bowed his head and replied, “I didn’t. I just wanted you to have it.”
     In the first twenty months of his presidency Johnson transformed the struggle in Vietnam into a full-blown American war. Mansfield advised him repeatedly against the dramatic expansion of military operations. At top-level White House meetings he was often the only person to speak up in opposition to Johnson’s plans. As Majority Leader, Mansfield was torn between his loyalty to a Democratic President, his belief in the predominance of the presidency in foreign affairs, and his opposition to the war. The delicate line he walked from 1963 to 1969 was the most difficult of his life.
     In 1972 when George McGovern was running for president against Nixon, he actually showed up late one night at Mansfield’s home, got him out of bed, and implored him to be his vice-presidential running mate. Mansfield’s response was classic: “Well, George, I don’t want that job. I don’t want to be president. I don’t want to be vice-president. I want to be a senator from Montana. That’s all I’ve ever been, and all I want to be.”
     Along with scanning the obituaries, I filed correspondence. I was astonished at the number of people who wrote to Mansfield. He received hundreds of requests to run for president, not only from Montanans but from people all over the country. He refused outright saying, “It would be too hard on Maureen.”
Twice after I left Mansfield’s office in July of 1970 Peggy hired me for a few weeks when I was passing through Washington D.C. on my way to Europe or California or wherever I was headed. I needed the money and I loved being back in the office. On one occasion Lyndon Johnson had just died and was lying in state in the Capitol rotunda. “Come with me,” Peggy said. “Let’s go pay our respects. I’ll take you to lunch in the senator’s dining room afterwards.”
We joined the procession of people walking quietly around the coffin in the rotunda. Sitting at lunch with Peggy I made an ill-timed comment about how Johnson was known for using intimidation to get things done, and about how much better it would have been for the country if Kennedy had lived out his time as president.
     Peggy looked at me without blinking. “Yes, Kathleen I think it’s time for a reality check. Of course it is a great tragedy that President Kennedy was killed and it is true that President Johnson twisted arms to further his agenda. And I know you compare him to “the boss,” who gets things done very differently. The truth is that President Kennedy was having a hard time getting civil rights legislation and other important bills through congress. President Johnson changed that. He knew how to move an agenda forward. And while he escalated the war he also got important social issues passed by congress. So it helps to have a more balanced view of people and situations.” I remember that conversation clearly.
Nixon’s presidency brought a transformation in the role of the Democratic Majority Leader. Freed from the dominance of a Democratic President, Mansfield became the leading spokesman for the party and for the nation. When Mansfield realized that Nixon, far from seeking a “peace with honor,” was actually expanding the war, he actively sought to end U.S. involvement by exerting legislative power. He also led the bi-partisan effort to force Nixon’s resignation after Watergate. When Mansfield retired from Congress in 1976, Nixon sent Mansfield a handwritten letter saying: “Our breakfasts were particularly helpful to me--because you were one of those rare men in public life who never broke a confidence.” Remarkable given Mansfield’s role in Nixon’s resignation.
     When Ford arrived at the White House in 1974, Mansfield expressed delight. “Ford was himself while President,” Mansfield told Oberdorfer. “We were lucky to have him.” The two men felt comfortable with each other. They had their differences, but they were able to work together in a friendly way. Ford appears to be the only president Mansfield invited into his home.
     At the very center of power working with the world’s most powerful people, under tremendous pressure, Mansfield maintained for the better part of a century, an open and inquiring intelligence, an ability to listen, an uncompromising integrity, and a quiet humor.

Say it Ain’t So, Mike….This is not primarily a political loss….but a personal loss. Mike has been not so much the Majority Leader of the Senate as the moral leader of the Senate whose personal integrity and fidelity to the nation crossed all party and personal controversies.
--James Reston, New York Times, 1976.[7]

As the father of two sons, I wish they could be the mirror of Mike Mansfield. I think any father knows that this says it all.
--Mark Hatfield, Republican Senator from Oregon, at Mansfield’s retirement from the Senate in 1976.[8]

In 1976 Mike decided it was time to go. When he retired from the Senate Mansfield had served as Majority Leader for 16 years, longer than anyone before or since. As the Senate prepared to adjourn, in mid-September, he rose to say goodbye. Oberdorfer tells us that before he could speak his colleagues began an extraordinary tribute for their departing leader. Always uncomfortable with acclaim, he walked from the chamber when the tributes began. When he returned he took a rear seat, bowed his head and shuffled papers. When it was announced that the Rules Committee had unanimously resolved that Room 207 in the Capitol building be designated the “Mike Mansfield Room,” Majority Whip Robert Byrd asked for unanimous consent. “I object,” said Mansfield. The Senate quickly adopted the measure.
     Toward evening when the speeches were over, Mansfield rose again to speak. “I do not leave this place in sadness,” he said in his clear orator’s voice. “I leave as one who has lived as a part of it and loved it deeply.” After saying thank you to a host of people, beginning as always with Maureen, he said, “To you who are my friends--to all of you--I can only say thank you and goodbye.” Oberdorfer says he walked quickly up the center aisle while his colleagues stood and applauded. He did not look back.
     Mansfield’s retirement was short lived. President Carter appointed him Ambassador to Japan in 1977. His reputation as Senate Majority Leader, his early success with a delicate nuclear fuel issue, and his personal habits all contributed to his tremendous prestige with both the Japanese people and his colleagues. “Whether from Montana or elsewhere, whether American or Japanese, Mansfield’s welcome for visitors was always the same and nearly always their most vivid memory of the occasion,” says Oberdorfer. After greeting visitors he escorted them to their seats and asked if they would like a cup of coffee. He went to the small kitchenette where he made instant coffee. He carried the cups out and served his guests. This was impressive to Americans and astounding to Japanese. “I hoped that by my pouring coffee, I would not only show personal friendship but alleviate somewhat the position of the ladies who served tea.” It wasn’t successful in breaking the Japanese habit. When Mansfield asked a Japanese colleague what his wife said about his serving coffee, his colleague replied, “She fainted.”
     When President Carter was defeated, Mike and Maureen packed their things to leave. In the middle of the night a call came from President Reagan asking them to stay on. The Mansfields agreed. An Ambassador serving both a Democratic and a Republican President was unheard of. Carter and Reagan agreed on little else except their esteem for Mike Mansfield. He served as Ambassador to Japan for 12 years.
     When Mike and Maureen left Japan in 1989, Mansfield was 85 years old and looking forward to full retirement. However, Goldman Sachs, the international investment banking firm, offered him a position in Washington as the senior advisor on Asian affairs. Mansfield thought they were joking.”I never heard of hiring anybody at 85.” Stan Kimmitt, his former student at the University of Montana and later secretary of the Senate, negotiated the agreement. Mansfield asked only one question.”Are they good people?” He made it clear that under no circumstances would he lobby for the firm.
     By 1995 Maureen began to show signs of memory loss. As her health deteriorated slowly he cared for her lovingly with help from only a day worker four or five days a week. When she died on September 20, 2000, Mike delivered the eulogy in the chapel at Fort Myer on the perimeter of Arlington National Cemetery, where a plot had been reserved for them both.
     “She sat in the shadows,’’ he declared, “I stood in the limelight….She literally remade me in her mold, her own outlook, her own honest beliefs. Without her I would have been little or nothing.”
     Once Maureen died he refused to let his doctors do anything to prolong his life.
     Oberdorfer’s final meeting with Mike took place the evening of September 25, 2001. “When it was time for me to leave, he said good-bye and walked unaided toward his bedroom. As he crossed the room I called out the miners’ admonition that he often repeated to end meetings with me and others: ‘Tap ‘er light.’ ” He turned and responded with a clear, strong voice: “Tap ‘er light.” He entered Walter Reed Army Hospital the next day and died peacefully nine days later.

There is no such thing as a coincidence.
— Unknown source.

Mansfield’s Irish Catholic heritage plays a part in this story. Peggy came from the same heritage, as do I. More than a few magical Irish moments kept me writing. One day sitting in a coffee shop working on this article, I heard a man at the next table say something about his daughter in Montana.
     For some reason I leaned over and asked, “Are you from Montana?”
     He replied, “Yes, I grew up in Great Falls.”
     “Really? I was your neighbor. I grew up in Big Sandy. I’m working on an article about Mike Mansfield.”
     A startled look came over his face. “One of my best friends is Mike Mansfield’s nephew,” he said. “My father ran against him in his first race for the state senate and beat him.”
     My new acquaintance gave me his friend’s email address. Mansfield’s nephew responded, connecting me to his sister, Sheila, the Mansfield family historian. I called Sheila, who is f-riendly and open in that unforgettable Montana way. A few minutes into the conversation she asked me if I knew Peggy. “Did I know Peggy! I’ve been trying to find out more about her.” “Well,” said she, “My husband, Bill, is Peggy’s nephew.”
     I was stunned. She told me that Peggy was the oldest of six children. When her father died the family had no place to live and no source of income. Her mother was forced to put the children in an orphanage in Denver where the family was living. In 1931 when Peggy was ten, an aunt brought Peggy and her baby brother to live with her in Great Falls. In 1936 Peggy went to Washington D.C. to live with an aunt there. She met Mansfield in Washington. Her connection with Montana, her unpretentious way of being, her practical intelligence must have impressed him. I’ve often wondered how Peggy’s and Mike’s experiences as children influenced their long, intensely loyal partnership and their capacity to remain true to themselves in the midst of great power.
It helps enormously to remember that there have been and can be still, men and women of real integrity who take on responsibility for political and diplomatic leadership. Even today, if a few people in the center of power are encouraged by Mansfield’s example, something could change.

During the economic recession of 1971 Mansfield was not above reaching across the aisle to help the economy. He said: “What we’re in is not a Republican recession or a Democratic recession; both parties had much to do with where we are today. But we are facing a national situation which calls for the best which all of us can produce.” [9]


I was inspired by Mansfield’s example. Witnessing Peggy and Senator Mansfield work together was a revelation. I began to realize that it was essential to listen, to listen to what people said and not only to what I wanted to hear. I also saw that help was available from other people if I had the capacity to be open to it, and that perhaps “Tapping ‘er light” is a good guide for living.
     Characteristically, Mansfield allowed none of his achievements to be celebrated on the granite headstone he had chosen, the smallest and simplest available, for his grave at Arlington National Cemetery. Engraved on the stone were these words:

Michael Joseph Mansfield
Pvt U. S. Marine Corps
Mar 16, 1903 Oct 5, 2001

This inscription for Maureen was engraved on the back of the same stone:
Maureen His Wife
Mar 23, 1905 Sep 20, 2000

We are living in a fast changing world. You are young enough to keep up with it. You are living in a world that is shrinking. The globe is becoming a neighborhood. It’s going to shrink further still. We’re going to become close neighbors. We are going to have to understand each other better. And we’ll have to recognize that regardless of where we come from no matter what our color or background, we are all initially sprang from the same source.
We’ll have to learn to get along with one another. We’ll have to set examples for those who will follow us and recognize that we don’t know it all. So we should listen to the other person and that other person sometimes is right and we are wrong. It will be a matter of accommodation, compromise, knowledge and understanding.
--Senator Mansfield [10]

[1] Don Oberdorfer, Senator Mansfield, The Extraordinary Life of a Great American Statesman and Diplomat,
Smithsonian Books, Washington and London, 2003, 9.
2 “Maureen and Mike Mansfield,” in 100 Montanans (Missoula, Mont.: Missoulian, 2000), 5.
3 Oberdorfer, ibid., 57.
4 Quoted by Saul Pett, Associated Press, 1969
5 Oberdorfer, ix.
6 Ibid, xii.
7 “Say It Ain’t So, Mike,” New York Times, 3/5/’76.
8 Oberdorfer, 453.
9 Economic Crisis: 1971 Year in Review, UPI.com.
10 The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation, from A Message to American Youth, Nov. 1989.
 










     
 

 

A Man Impossible to Classify One of my first experiences in San Francisco was of being flagged down by a ... Read More 711115 views


The Dumpster      “We can’t use these. They look like ... Read More 130212 views


Remember to Remember - Nicholas Hlobeczy I had the pleasure of getting to know the late Nicholas Hlobeczy over a ... Read More 87871 views


A Conversation with Silas Hagerty I met Silas, a young man in his twenties from New England, at a servicespace.org ... Read More 56329 views


A Conversation with Taya Doro Mitchell Taya Doro Mitchell July 3, 2007 Oakland CA I heard about Taya Doro Mitchell ... Read More 111019 views


READ MORE >> 

A Man Impossible to Classify One of my first experiences in San Francisco was of being flagged down by a ... Read More 711115 views


Interview with Bill Douglass—Jimbo's Bop City and Other Tales At the time I'd first gotten to know the widely respected jazz musician Bill ... Read More 359087 views


Greeting the Light It was thanks to artist Walter Gabrielson that I was able to get in touch with ... Read More 289603 views


Interview: Gail Needleman Gail Needleman teaches music at Holy Names University in Oakland, California. ... Read More 178962 views


Interview: Stephen De Staebler John Toki encouraged me to interview his old friend and mentor, sculptor Stephen ... Read More 148809 views


READ MORE >>