Following the untimely death of Congressman John M. Ashbrook in April of 1982, while a candidate for the U.S. Senate, plans were made to institute a fitting memorial to both him as an individual and as an outstanding spokesman for the conservative philosophy in contemporary times.
The location chosen for the memorial was Ashland College in Ashland, Ohio, located in the heart of the 17th District which John had served faithfully for 21 years. John, who had received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Ashland College in 1963, had maintained close ties with the college through the years, serving on the President’s Advisory Council.
The formal inauguration of these plans came on May 9, 1983, when the first annual John M. Ashbrook Memorial Dinner was held. The evening’s keynote speaker was the President of the United States, Ronald Reagan.
The arrival of the President of the United States at any gathering is a major event, but when it is the first visit to a community by a sitting President, it attains an even greater historical perspective.
President and Mrs. Reagan landed at Mansfield Lahm Airport on Air Force One at 5:40 p.m. After brief ceremonies, they were whisked via Marine One helicopter to a landing sight at Ashland High School.
A brief motorcade drive through the streets of Ashland and past cheering crowds brought President and Mrs. Reagan to the John C. Myers Convocation Center, where the President delivered a 25-minute keynote address to more than 1,400 dinner guests commemorating the inauguration of the John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs.
The formal evening activities began when Ashland College President Dr. Joseph R. Shultz introduced the master of ceremonies for the dinner, Steven D. Symms, U.S. Senator from Idaho. Senator Symms, in turn, introduced the evening’s special guests at the head table as they entered and were seated.
The last to be presented were President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan. They entered the room to the strains of “Hail to the Chief.” Following the presenting of the Colors by the Ohio National Guard Color Guard, the singing of the national anthem and an invocation by Mr. William Rusher, publisher of National Review, the dinner was served.
Following dinner, Senator Symms introduced the evening’s speakers. Symms, who also served as co-chairman of the event, is a member of the Board of Advisors of the John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs.
The senator served with the late John Ashbrook in the U.S. House of Representatives for four terms before being elected to the Senate in 1980. Symms, who was a close friend of Ashbrook, has rapidly become a nationally recognized spokesman for conservative principles.
He is a member of key Senate committees, including the finance and budget committees. He has earned a reputation as a vigorous advocate of limited government and the free enterprise system.
Excerpts from the speech of Dr. Joseph R. Shultz, president of Ashland College.
President and Mrs. Reagan, distinguished members of the advisory board, honored guests. Welcome to the inauguration of the John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs.
This historic occasion is the inauguration of the John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs–a living memorial to the 25 years of public service of John Ashbrook. His political philosophy and governing principles will be taught and lived again in the minds, hearts, and actions of students–young and old.
The Ashbrook Center will develop an internship in government and politics to provide for ’on-the-job’ experiences for students of government and politics, individually designed for selected offices at the local, state and federal levels.
The Center will conduct a series of annual lectures and seminars by the most outstanding persons in the various areas of political science and public affairs for students and the public. The lectures will be published for distribution to the general public, to the 3,000 colleges and universities in the United States and to the general media.
The John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs, located at Ashland College in the great heartland of America, in honor of John, inaugurated by the most Honorable President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, guided by a distinguished advisory board, is destined to educate this and future generations of students and citizens and shall help sustain the dream of President Lincoln: “That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Following is the speech of the Honorable Jean Ashbrook, widow of John M. Ashbrook.
Mr. President, Mrs. Reagan, distinguished chairmen and dear friends. You honor John Ashbrook and his family with your presence here this evening. We thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.
On behalf of all of us, I would like to congratulate Dr. Joseph R. Shultz and all of you at Ashland College. The Ashbrook family is extremely pleased that a living memorial to preserve an perpetuate the conservative principles and values championed by John Ashbrook will find it’s beginning here on the campus of Ashland College. Thank you, Dr. Shultz, and please convey our gratitude to your staff, students, and friends of the college that have made all this possible.
There is another individual who cannot be left unmentioned. The enthusiasm, eternal optimism and untiring efforts of Senator Tom Van Meter have changed what might still be just a dream into this dynamic and wonderful national memorial program. Tom has served as coordinator and has been a true and constant friend.
The Ashbrook family would like to acknowledge, with deep appreciation, the men and women who will serve as directors for the Center for Public Affairs, recognizing the crucial role that they will play in preserving our heritage and fulfilling our mission. An on-going conservative center, with a focus on training out youth to become the conservative activists and spokesman of the future, will be a living memorial to John Ashbrook and his legacy to his country.
Fred A. Lennon, chairman of the Crawford Fitting Co., Solon Ohio, who is chairman of the board of advisors of the John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs, introduced the President, Ronald Reagan. Following is Mr. Lennon’s speech.
Mr. President, Mrs. Reagan, Jean Ashbrook, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I cannot tell you how happy and proud I am to see this turnout honoring our good friend and great American, John Ashbrook. John was always so proud of the fact that, even though he kept losing battles to the majority in Congress, he never abandoned his principles.
When John talked, you knew what he said. In campaigns, he would advise voters to vote for his opponent if they approved of forced busing. John was opposed to forced busing, and he said so. John felt there was a better way to educate our children. John felt that every man should have the right to join a labor union, but he felt very strongly that no man should be forced to join a labor union against his will in order to earn his livelihood.
It is very rare that a John Ashbrook will arrive on the horizon. We hope that the work we are doing here will help us find another John Ashbrook.
It was just four years ago that I was asked to introduce Governor Reagan to a large audience in Cleveland. This was before he had announced that he was a candidate.
At that time everyone had me convinced that he could not be elected and all of their reasons were very sound. I did not know any better, so I just kept plugging along.
I kept pointing out that there was a silent majority out there who agreed with Governor Reagan and had faith in him. They had the same concerns he did about inflation, high taxes, big spending, government regulations.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is still a large silent majority of hard-working taxpayers who appreciate what he has accomplished for our country.
Like John Ashbrook, he has lost some battles with the majority in Congress, but he has not abandoned his principles. He still wants to put some common sense in government and I know you all want him to succeed, and I am confidant he will succeed.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to and honor to present out great President of the United States. President Reagan.
President Reagan’s Speech
The following are excerpts from the address made by the President of the United States, Ronald Reagan.
Thank you, Fred. Dr. Shultz, Jean Ashbrook, distinguished guests, we are here this evening to honor a man who, though he died at a tragically young age, garnered for himself a remarkable record of public service as a state assemblyman, a distinguished Congressman, a candidate for the United States Senate and, for a brief time, a candidate for the Presidency of the United States.
There is a sadness and a surprise in recounting these titles of office either held or sought by John Ashbrook. Sadness, of course, because a man who made such an enormous contribution to American political life is now gone. Surprise, because all of us who followed closely the career of John Ashbrook remember him for his youthful and vigorous advocacy of traditional American principles.
Yes, John Ashbrook was one of those honored few, those officeholders in the fifties and sixties who warned against the current trends and fashions, who predicted that some day the massive spending schemes and higher and higher taxes of the federal government would stall and depress the American economy, immobilize state and local government and endanger personal freedom.
But if John Ashbrook was a rock-solid conservative, he was also a conservative who broke the mold. He hardly fit the image of the stuffy or parochial reactionary some tried to attach to him. A graduate of Harvard, an adept and effective public speaker, the concise eloquence he brought to his views made the liberal establishment take notice.
Even those who view the world from a different political perspective can honor this man’s utter devotion to principle and his understanding of the essence of political leadership. John Ashbrook knew that the first duty of public life is to responsibly speak the truth–even if the moment’s fashion is against the truth–for it’s through such consistency and coherence, such constant attention to principle, that the public trust is eventually won and a political consensus mobilized.
Yet we do his memory and ourselves a disservice if we too exclusively identify John Ashbrook’s political principles with one man, or one political movement. Through all of his writings and speeches, it was John Ashbrook’s insistent claim that opposition to the cult of state power–the cult that has so badly infected our century–was deeply and irrevocably part of America’s past, and that the principle of limited government was America’s greatest contribution to constitutional and political history.
He spoke movingly of America’s traditional values and how, too often in recent years, we as a nation had drifted from those values.
For him, conservatism was not so much a political pressure group as it was a modern reflection of the insights and wisdom that began the American Republic.
His career as a public servant is testimony to this kind of enlightened conservatism. John Ashbrook believed in study and thought. He was close to Ashland College. He did all in his power to encourage the growth of conservative think tanks and policy groups.
Thank you all, and God Bless you.