Personal reflections on subjects close to my heart.
Monday, January 1, 2007
(I gave this presentation on Monday, November 13, 2006, when Phil West, the love of my life, turned 65 and retired after 18 years working on government reform in Rhode Island as executive director of Common Cause. For best viewing, set your width about 7.5 inches. Photos may be enlarged by clicking on them.)
I met Phil about 1950 and got him to marry me in 1965. I’m going to tell you some things about him!
Mostly I want to honor the two people who taught Phil everything he knows that’s most important:
Howard Philip West, Sr.,
and Kathryn Foss West.
I want to pretend they are here with us.
More than 60 years ago they decided that Howard would stop working in sales and become a janitor and a night watchman and pursue his dream to be a pastor. They could not afford four years of college plus three years of seminary for him to be ordained.
But Kathryn kept working as a secretary, and Philip went to nursery school. Eventually Pop got licensed as a local pastor at a little church in the Catskill Mountains. They taught Phil that the purpose of your life matters more than how much money you make.
So he saw nothing wrong less than twenty years ago in taking a job that paid less than twenty thousand dollars, because he believed in the work of Common Cause Rhode Island and wanted to be part of it.
Mom and Pop taught their only child to question authority and to express his opinions.
You know this child is going to be a magnet for bullies!
But he had an amazing role model:
Pop loved to tell Phil Aesop’s fable about the contest between the North Wind and the Sun: Which one could get the coat off the traveler?!
The North Wind blew and blew, but the traveler only pulled his coat tighter.
Then the Sun came out and shone. The traveler began to sweat . . .
and took off his own coat, proving that warmth works better than force. Sunshine is stronger than bluster.
Phil’s parents gave him a sense of wonder
and tenderness for the natural world.
He reported his experiences in detail with great earnestness.
(This also marks the zenith of his penmanship--none of which endeared him to bullies!) But his dear dad was so mellow and peace-loving!
Pop got some boxing gloves
and taught Phil the rudiments of the sport--
that you never have to be afraid of bullies,
but you never have to hurt them either.
Keep the gloves on!
Mom and Pop taught Phil perseverance.
When he got annoyed at his Scout leader
and wanted to quit, they said,
"Philip, give it your best for one month.
If you still want to leave, we will support you"
(which was a big thing to say in a small town).
He got through the month
and no longer wanted to quit.
He became an Eagle Scout,
and still uses skills he learned there,
especially one about not letting personalities
keep you from accomplishing good goals.
That's also where he learned the lesson:
always leave a campsite cleaner than you found it.
As a senior in high school, Phil tried hard to win a college scholarship, but complained to his parents that it was all political: the teachers kept favoring the son of the president of the Board of Education.
Mom and Pop gave him little sympathy. They said: "The teachers are only hurting that boy, because beyond this little valley there is a big world where you have to work hard. It’s a good thing you’re learning to do that now."
Phil had a brief gridiron career in high school.
He discovered that his opponents
were not scared of his muscles,
but he could unnerve them with his mouth.
Before he turned twenty, he got a preacher’s license.
Several years later he was ordained a minister.
You may not know that year after year the ministers in the New York Conference of the United Methodist Church have been voting every June to re-appoint Phil to Common Cause Rhode Island, because they see the work here as part of their mission. John Wesley, who founded Methodism said: “The world is my parish.”
Phil loves to sing, but he can’t read music. When Hamilton College did
not accept him into its elite choir, he was crushed, but he dealt with his disappointment by learning to play guitar.
He taught freedom songs to kids in the South Bronx. Here they are singing at our wedding in 1965.
Over the next few years Phil discovered that I suffer from learned helplessness in the kitchen.
He took over all the cooking, which became one of his greatest satisfactions. He also did something very characteristic.
Phil has a way of stretching many of us farther than we ever intended to go. I had no intention of becoming a feminist! But Phil kept telling me about the importance of the women’s movement . . .
and how marriage needs integrity as an equal partnership. So I did some work with Betty Friedan, who signed this photo for him: “Love to a liberating man!”
Phil raised two sons—Adam and Lars--
who know how to cook and clean and do the laundry!
We also worked hard to liberate him, to get him to lighten up. . .
and not take himself so seriously.
His clown name is “Pops.”
Phil is a runner. Here he is with Adam running against hunger. A decade later, we had moved to Rhode Island,
and he was still running. Lars drew this poster for the State House Run-Around in 1990.
The next year scandal locked up the banks and credit unions in Rhode Island.
At first people were numb and angry.
Then a new strategy emerged. We joined together and marched on the State House from every direction,
from different communities of faith.
Organizations all over the state formed the Right NOW Coalition.
The shofar called us to repentance--to admit our own responsibility, our negligence that allowed corruption to grow . . . everyone in one accord.
The momentum grew . . . for ethics, campaign finance reforms, merit selection of judges. In 2004, Rhode Island become the last state in the nation to add Separation of Powers to our Constitution, to cut our state’s deep root of corruption.
These years recall the enormous diligence and devotion of so many of you who have been key to the success of Common Cause.
And we honor all those who will
carry this work into the future.
Mom and Pop have left now. This is the last picture Phil took of them together. Their relationship showed him what integrity looks like.
Growing up as their only child
gave Phil his sense of security and purpose
and the persistent optimism he shares so generously with the rest of us.
Their torch has passed to us and our children's generation. Here we are from left: Lars and Kerrie live in Seekonk. Adam and Allison live in Jacksonville, Florida. Sonnie is like a daughter to us, and we live in Providence.
Phil has taken many visitors on tour of the State House like these guests from Thailand, telling them what he’s learned here--how we need to be vigilant, because big victories can be lost overnight. He’s begun writing a book about these years that we hope will be helpful to them . . .
and to others around the world who need good government, like this Liberian family he photographed in a refugee camp in Ghana . . .
and these Mozambicans we saw in Zimbabwe . . .
and these South African children in Soweto.
There is so much work still to do.
We’re grateful that a new generation has already begun that work. We love the enthusiasm and vision of young people who still believe that HOPE is the perfect motto for Rhode Island.
I’m going to end with two of my favorite pictures.
Here is Phil tearing around the State House,
in red, white, and blue,
picture of a patriot.
And here’s my favorite one of all.
He’s finally coming home!
Individuals shown above include: William Hutchinson (appearing as Roger Williams); Alan Hassenfeld, Natalie Joslin, and Henry Sharpe, first members of the John Gardner Fellowship; Diana Kelly, associate director, Christine Lopes, executive director, and Peter Hufstader, research director of Common Cause RI. The seven photographs from the RIght Now! event are by Duane Clinker. The cartoon is by Jim Bush.