On a recent visit to Ashland University, I had an enormous compulsion to go up to the Ashbrook Center. Over the years, I have been there many times. It is such a special place.
My visit this day, however, seemed somehow very different with high emotional impact. When the elevator doors opened, all was quiet and serene. The staff members were all busy in their offices and all I could see was John’s office, recreated just as it was in Washington, D.C. I found myself just standing there transfixed and then quietly moving closer and closer to the total familiarity of a venue I so often enjoyed for more than twenty years.
Over those years, there was never a time when I was in Washington that John and I did not visit, and each time we lunched in the House Dining Room where John introduced me to the famous Congressional Bean Soup.
I first met John Ashbrook when he asked me to help him in his campaign for his U.S. House of Representatives seat. I, along with Donald Paulson and Attorney Robert E. Henderson, were part of a committee to help John campaign in Ashland County. We became his schedulers, fund raisers, marketers, errand runners and door to door callers throughout the county. We had so much help from so many people because our candidate was believable and we all liked exactly what he stood for politically, ethically, and morally. I also remember the long nights of work, the constant meetings along with the "cheer up" sessions John held with us when we were exhausted. Always, most memorable was the zeal with which he made us all so clearly understand his deep desire to change things and the intensity he displayed as he told us what we needed to do to help him get his message out.
John Ashbrook was a strong conservative advocate and a successful one over the course of his public service. His life, his work, his integrity, his moral strength, his honesty and his caring ways with all his constituents were all very important. But, being an unyielding conservative in a liberal Congress was far from a pleasant environment for this man of high ideals and deep beliefs from Johnstown, Ohio, who desperately wanted to change things. It was perhaps the most trying time of his political life as he served that first year as a Congressman in 1961.
Nearly everyone recognized that John had to confront a "stone wall" as a new Congressman in the minority party in a liberal Congress. Eventually, all of us who knew him well were able to rejoice in the fact that John Ashbrook was creating his own "stone wall" by becoming so well known as the "Rock of Conservatism" in America.
Today, many of us know from the chronicles of the Ashbrook Center what courage it took to maintain the leading role in championing conservative issues nationwide. Eventually, the depth of his convictions caused John to run in a Presidential primary. Whatever the reason was, he wasn’t successful in the primary, but he was able to get his message out and gained an enormous number of new followers.
Looking back, Tom Van Meter was an example of the powerful influences and opportunities John Ashbrook provided for so many of us.
Tom became an admired and respected conservative State Senator, who nearly single-handedly spearheaded the Ohio Senate to a Republican majority. To this day, I find it difficult to accept that both of these conservative leaders suffered such untimely deaths. Tom, however, lived long enough to join with Fred Lennon and Jean Ashbrook to honor husband, friend, and mentor by creating the Ashbrook Center as a living memorial tribute in 1983.
After I returned to my office from my visit to the Ashbrook Center, I leaned back in my chair and took a long pensive look at the special portrait of John Ashbrook that hangs directly above my desk. All my mind could summon up were these comforting thoughts: "John, it was wonderful to experience, once again, the pleasure of your company through vivid memories of our special lunches and deeply meaningful relationship. I’m sure we’ll do it again some day, because I know where to find you." Hopefully, there will be Congressional Bean Soup somewhere on a heavenly dining room menu.
Louis W. Fritz is chairman of Louis Winfield Fritz and Associates, an economic and international consulting firm located in Ashland, Ohio.