when pigs fly … expect the unbelievable

Archive for June 2009

This week I am not blogging here.  If you are interested, please visit my Stennis Institute blog which is located at http://lydiastennis.wordpress.com.  Have a good week.


Senator Margaret Chase Smith’s nomination as a potential GOP presidential candidate was my tipping point.  But she had also demonstrated something very important for a 12 year old Texas girl.  She had demonstrated that I could do anything.  If Senator Smith’s name could be placed in nomination on that hot July evening, all kinds of opportunities opened up for me.

On January 27, 1964, Margaret Chase Smith announced her candidacy for the nation’s highest elective office.  She did so in a speech to the Women’s National Press Club held at the Mayflower Hotel.  At the Cow Palace in San Francisco that July, Senator Smith became the first woman to have her name placed in nomination for the Presidency at a major political party’s national convention. In the initial balloting, she placed fifth. Refusing to withdraw her name from the final ballot, she denied Barry Goldwater unanimous consent to prove the point that a woman had ultimately placed second.

What motivated Smith to opt to seek the presidential nomination of her party?  Certainly it was not a decision which was associated with personal hubris.  The fact is that for most of 1963 she had received a flow of correspondence urging her to run.  She didn’t take the mail she was receiving seriously until an AP story in late 1963 suggested that she was considering a run.  Thereafter, positive mail escalated and it became clear to her that people all across the nation were interested in her potential candidacy.

In her speech at the Mayflower Hotel, she indicated reasons that contributed to her decision to run.  (1) The voters wanted a wider choice than they were offered by traditional candidates.  (2)  Lacking money, machine or party backing, she was truly independent of others. (3) Women of the US have an opportunity to break the barrier against women being seriously considered for the presidency (just as JFK had broken the barrier of racial bigotry).

Indeed, Senatory Smith broke the barrier against women being seriously considered for the presidency.  Since then there have been various viable women candidates, including Senator Hillary Clinton who came close to obtaining her party’s nomination.

But at age 12, in Breckenridge, Texas, it became clear to me — watching these 14 delegates demonstrating with vigor in favor of their candidate — that all doors were open to me.  Margaret Chase Smith held the keys to those doors and opened them for me that night.

While no one knew what a tipping point was in 1964, looking back, clearly this was a moment of empowerment for me — a tipping point when I knew that whatever I decided to be, I could be.  And I’ve never looked back.



George Aiken is best known as the Senator from Vermont who advised LBJ to “declare victory [in Vietnam] and get the hell out!”  He also nominated Senator Margaret Chase Smith, of Maine, a fellow Republican, for consideration as the Republican nominee for president in 1964.  Senator Aiken was born in 1892 and died in 1984.  Besides serving as Vermont’s senator from 1941 to 1974, he had also served as a member of Vermont’s House of Representatives, also serving as Speaker, and served one term each as Lieutenant Governor and Governor of Vermont, leaving this position to become Senator, filling an unexpired term.

As a result of Aiken’s advice on Vietnam, he became referred to by Senate members as “the wise old owl”.    And if you are a geography groupie, you will want to know that Senator Aiken (who preferred the title Governor, even when he served in the Senate) is credited with naming Vermont’s northeastern counties the “Northeast Kingdom”.

Senator Margaret Chase Smith wore a fresh rose pinned to her collar every day.  A red rose.  And most days she also wore pearls.  But the rose was her signature.  She was so famous for her rose that a Margaret Chase Smith rosebush exits today.

So it’s not difficult to understand that when Senator Margaret Chase Smith determined to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 1964, the campaign’s themesong would become Everything’s Coming Up Roses.  And indeed, after George Aiken, Senator from Vermont, placed Senator Smith’s name in nomination in July of 1964 on the floor of San Francisco’s Cow Palace, the floor demonstration was accompanied by a band playing Everything’s Coming Up Roses.

As the convention band swung into that tune, the entire Maine delegation (all 14 members) sprang to their feet — each sporting a red rose in their respective lapels.  In addition, a dozen or so cheerleaders from Maine danced and pranced through the convention isles waving red roses over their heads.

Aiken described Smith as “ace-high in integrity, ability, common sense, and courage . . . and one of the most capable persons I have ever known . . . ”  This was all true.  But she had also demonstrated something very important for a 12 year old Texas girl.  She had demonstrated that I could do anything.  If Senator Smith’s name could be placed in nomination on that hot July evening, all kinds of opportunities opened up for me.

Today I am speaking to the MSU Staff Leadership Development Team on “ethical leadership” — which I contend is a result of the use of influence, not authority.  I am going to share a few of my thoughts:

Lee Iacocca championed the adage:  “Lead, follow or get out of the way!”  It is easy to follow, easier still to get out of the way.  But do you have what it takes to lead?  Moreover, do you have what it takes to provide the kind of leadership that is value leadership, ethical leadership, meaningful leadership?

What does it take to lead?  It takes followers, for one thing.  You can’t be a leader without followers.  But how are followers defined?  For our purposes, I believe that followers can be defined as those you influence, those who look to you for guidance, whether or not you are their nominal leader.

 My husband, who is pretty sage about some things, says that the measure of a leader is that a leader is a person that other people will follow up a hill – say San Juan Hill, for instance.  And there is something to be said for that mental picture – not of Teddy Roosevelt with his bayonet drawn necessarily, but of you or me – scrambling up a hill with followers at our heels.

What made the Rough Riders (1st US Volunteer Infantry) follow Teddy Roosevelt up San Juan Hill on July 1, 1898?  What made Teddy Roosevelt resign his position as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in April of 1898, join the army, enlist cowboys and college men in the bar at the Menger Hotel in San Antonio, Texas, and lead these men to Cuba and, ultimately up San Juan Hill?

I might know the answer.  You see, I had the opportunity to read the account of a contemporary who witnessed the Battle of San Juan Hill.  Richard Harding Davis, a reporter during the Spanish-American War who witnessed the charge, responded to Roosevelt in this way as he stood watching Roosevelt and his men on July 1, 1898:  “Roosevelt made you feel like you wanted to cheer.” I think that is why the Rough Riders followed Roosevelt up San Juan Hill.  He made them feel like they wanted to cheer. He was enthusiastic and enthusiasm not only breeds enthusiasm, it breeds loyalty.  The Rough Riders loved Roosevelt because he was enthusiastic; they followed him because his enthusiasm drew them in; they believed in him, in his enthusiasm, in his ability to design a symbol – a vision — that they could buy into, and that symbol – that vision — compelled their loyalty.

 What has talking about Teddy Roosevelt taught us?  That a characteristic of leadership – and a personal characteristic of most leaders – is that of enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm probably goes a long way toward answering the question:  What made Teddy Roosevelt resign his position as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in April of 1898, join the army, enlist cowboys and college men in the bar at the Menger Hotel in San Antonio, Texas, and lead these men to Cuba and, ultimately up San Juan Hill?  Teddy Roosevelt lived life large – he couldn’t be sitting in the office of the Secretary of the Navy when others were fighting in Cuba.  He wanted to mix it up.  He was one who wanted to be – as we who were adolescents in the late 60s and early 70s would say – “where the action is.”

But enthusiasm is only one of the elements that combine with others to make a leader.  Other elements that I have identified are: vision, character, fearlessness, decisiveness, consistency and outcome orientation.  When you consider these elements together – in a basket, say – a basket of personal assets – I think what you find at the base of it all is ethical leadership.


Posted on: June 8, 2009

Saturday was the 65th anniversary of D-Day.  I don’t know how you spent your weekend, but I spent mine (beginning at 4 p.m. on the 6th) watching the Military Channel, which was hosting a D-Day marathon of sorts.

Many of you are much more knowledgeable about military history than I, but for the others of you, let me give a slight overview.  The D-Day invasion of Normandy in WWII was the largest single-day amphibious invasion of all times.  Over 160,000 troops landed on the Normandy beaches that day (June 6, 1944) with the assistance of almost 200,000 naval and merchant navy trooks and over 5,000 ships, including the Higgins Boats.  The landings took place along an 80 km stretch of Normandy beachline divided into sectors Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.  Prior to these landings thousands of paratroopers — American, British and Canadian — had landed behind the beach in enemy-occupied France.  In occupied France, the French Resistence movement also coordinated action with the D-Day landings.

Canadians, landing on Juno, were successful and, in fact, forged farther into occupied France than any of the other amphibious troops.  Sword was approached by the British infantry, which suffered only light casualties.  Gold, also a British landing, was not so lucky, sustaining heavy casualties.  Utah, the westernmost landing spot, sustained the least casualties; Utah was an American landing.  Omaha, the other American landing, was the landing that most Americans associate with D-Day.  With respect to the landing on Omaha, the official record stated that “within 10 minutes of the ramps being lowered, [the leading] company had become inert, leaderless and almost incapable of action. Every officer and sergeant had been killed or wounded […] It had become a struggle for survival and rescue”. In spite of heavy losses and General Bradley’s serious consideration of abandoning Omaha, small units of infantry, often forming in ad hoc groups after becoming either leaderless or separated from their original units, supported by naval artillery and the surviving tanks, eventually infiltrated the coastal defenses by scaling the bluffs between strongpoints. Further infantry landings were able to exploit the initial penetrations and by the end of the day two isolated footholds had been established. American casualties at Omaha on D-Day numbered around 5,000 out of 50,000 men, most in the first few hours, while the Germans suffered 1,200 killed, wounded or missing. The tenuous beachhead was expanded over the following days, and the original D-Day objectives were accomplished by D+3.

The 65th anniversary of D-Day finds our youngest D-Day and WWII veterans turning 82 years of age. The years to come will find ever fewer of them among us, and fewer still able to travel and share their stories.  What they have shared with us over the year are their memories of the beginning of the end of the age of fascism and the return of hope to millions in occupied nations globally. Moreover, as the largest land, air, and sea invasion in history, D-Day drew upon human and military resources on an unprecedented scale, one consequence of which was the creation of an unprecedented number of veterans of a single battle. There are more veterans of D-Day than any other engagement in the Second World War, derived from every sector of our population and reflecting a wide variety of backgrounds, each one with a distinct and unique story of D-Day to share – the story of ordinary men and women living in extraordinary times.  Many of these veterans are just coming to grips with that extraordinary day and are just begining to be able to talk about those experiences without emotion too strong to bear.

If you know a D-Day vet, thank him.  If he is willing, take an oral history and share it with the Stennis Institute.




Don’t you love timelines?  They fascinate me.  So I wanted to give you a more in depth view of where my head was — or rather what was swirling around in there loosely — at the time of the ’64 national conventions.  In addition to items mentioned on Wednesday, here are other events which occurred before the conventions began in mid-summer of ’64:

  • LBJ declared the War on Poverty
  • Luther Terry, US Surgeon General, issues first report that smoking tobacco may be hazardous to your health
  • the PLO was organized in Egypt
  • 24th amendment, eliminating federal poll taxes, is ratified
  • LBJ, while privately admitting that Vietnam is “a big mess”, commits more troops
  • Indiana Governor Matthew Walch attempts to ban “Louie Louie” for obscenity
  • Mohammed Ali (then Cassius Clay) defeated Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title
  • Jimmy Hoffa was convicted of jury tampering (he had not yet gone missing)
  • Elizabeth Tayor married Richard Burton
  • Boston Celtics won an unprecedented 6th consecutive NBA title (which they would extend to 8 in ’66)
  • 3 young civil rights workers were murdered in Neshoba County, Mississippi

That’s just some of what was going on in my world, and their implications in my head, before the conventions began.

June 2009
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