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The McGowan-Nolan Family Page

A Political Life, Part III


My first association with Hubert Humphrey was not very auspicious. He and my father were engaged in an editorial dispute. At the time Humphrey was mayor of Minneapolis and he was drawing praise for something he did in that position I can't recall what it was but my father didn't think much of the idea and said so in an editorial in our family paper, the Appleton Press.

Humphrey must have had a clipping service because it wasn't long before my father received a rather sharp letter from I-Humphrey about the editorial. I believe my father replied in kind. That was the end of it but my father never did think much of Humphrey, although we both came to support him when he ran for higher office.

I began to think more of Humphrey in 1998 when he was a Minnesota delegate to the Democratic national convention He created quite a stir there with a typical fiery Humphrey speech on civil rights. He was appealing to the convention for a strong plank in the party platform on that subject He prevailed and the southern Dixiecrat delegation, headed by Strom Thurmond, walked out of the convention.

Thurmond ran for president on the Dixiecrat segregationist program. Thomas E. Dewey Was the Republican nominee and he gave incumbent President Harry Truman a chance to be reelected in a three-way race with southern Democrats backing Thurmond. But Truman pulled it out in a race that was in doubt until morning. Truman went to bed not knowing the outcome. The Chicago Tribune was so certain of Dewey’s victory it came out with a headline proclaiming Dewey's victory, which Truman held upthe next morning with a broad grin.

Humphrey was also victorious that year and began an illustrious career that led to the vice presidency and a race for president. He really was the originator of the Peace Corps for which President Kennedy has received much credit. He also was of considerable assistance to me in obtaining funding for the public television station I worked to locate in Appleton.

On one of Humphrey’s campaigns for the senate he made an appearance in Appleton. He had an advance man, Howard Y. Williams, who went ahead and spread the word Humphrey was coming. When he arrived in town he came to my newspaper office where I was busy in the back shop. I took off my printer’s apron and went to the main intersection downtown to make an introduction for him.

I had alerted the high school band--in which some of my children were members--the senators appearance and the director agreed to bring them downtown to enliven the crowd. I first introduced Humphrey to the director and to my children and then made the introduction from a raised platform Humphrey made his typical strong speech to an interested crowd. This was before television and voters didn't have many opportunities to see candidates in the flesh An occasion like this would never happen today when mast of the campaigning is done by TV.

After the speech Humphrey went around town shaking hands. It happened that the owner of the local meat market, Al Thompson, knew Humphrey as "Pinky" when they both grew up in South Dakota After he had made his rounds Humphrey came back to the newspaper office to thank me for the introduction. On another occasion when Humphrey made a talk to a Farmers Union meeting at nearby Milan, I invited him to spend the night in our home. He was accompanied by Eugene Knudsen, who became my colleague in the state house of representatives from the district adjoining mine, and Richard Hanson, a Hennepin county commissioner.

We farmed out some of our growing family to other locations for the night and gave Humphrey our comfortable double bed. In the morning my wife, Betty, fixed breakfast for our guests. Some of the smaller children came home to meet the honored guest.

Years later when it appeared Humphrey might become president of the United States we felt we should have put I plaque on the bed stating, "The President Slept Here." However, it didn’t happen that way and we had to be content to say the vice president slept here. That bed ultimately became the main bed in cabin of our son's summer cabin in northern Minnesota.

When it became apparent that if a public television station was ever to go an the air in Appleton, federal funding would b needed. By this time I was working for KTCA-TV as their government representative and it was my job to lobby for the funding. Actually I think I was hired by the station because I had a personal acquaintance with Senators Humphrey and McCarthy. The latter had tipped us off that a station could be built-in Appleton and Humphrey was going to help us get the necessary funds.

Toward that end on one trip to Washington Humphrey arranged for a conference room and rounded up the necessary federal officials who could help us with the funding. He opened the meeting, left for other business and dropped in occasionally to see how we were doing. I am certain his intercession was instrumental in getting the funding.

Humphrey had I fantastic facility for remembering names On one of my trips to Washington I was on the same plane with some of Humphrey’s sons. When 1 got off the plane and was walking in the terminal Humphrey spotted his sons and greeted them. At about the same time he spotted me and gave me a warm greeting. Maybe that isn’t so surprising since we had many contacts, but it made me feel good to be recognized.

Later Humphrey compromised on his memory for names. His vision faded a bit and he should have worn glasses, but he hated to be seen in public wearing his glasses. At political gatherings or other occasions where people wore name tags he had help. D. J. Leary, a well known Democratic public relations person and political writer, walked behind Humphrey’s right shoulder. while Humphrey was looking at the person approaching him, Leary was reading his name tag and whispering the name into Humphrey’s ear. This made flawless greeting as Humphrey apparently recognized the person like a long lost friend.

When push came to shove, as the expression goes, was in 1968 when Humphrey was the Democratic nominee for president. The split among liberals was over the Vietnam war. Humphrey had been Lyndon Johnson’s vice president and as such he owed some allegiance to the hawkish Johnson, who had wanted to push ahead to a military victory that was so elusive. Johnson decided not to seek reelection to the presidency when Eugene McCarthy made a strong showing in the New Hampshire primary on a peace program. In the final days Humphrey tried to get out from under Johnson’s umbrella and run on his own. By this time, he too, saw that the war effort was wrong but if he became too outspoken he would lose John's support.

At the time of another capaign Humphrey came to Appleton to do some handshaking at the Swift County Fair. Atgain I met him and escorted him around the fair grounds. When he had finished there I told Humphrey there was one more stop I wanted him to make.

After my father retired from active participation in running our newspaper he spent most of his time at home, writing a person column and a gardening column for the paper. His only recreation at the time was a walk downtown to a clothing store where my father and some of his cronies would strike a blow for freedom, as Sam Rayburn called, it, or to have a sip of bourbon and branch, as Harry Truman called. It. Since my father was beginning to suffer from emphysema I would drop in after work, Join them for one and drive my father home. This was where I wanted Humphrey to visit.

A bit before this incident, a vacancy opened for the job of local postmaster. I had some aspirations for the post, but knew I couldn't hold it after the ware because I would not have the veterans' preference. My father had been post master there for a brief period in World War I and he secured the job for his sister for 17 years in the Depression era.

As it turned out, I didn't get the appointment and it went to somebody else favored by one of my father's political enemies at Benson. I didn't think too much of it but it rankled my father.

So when Humphrey and I arrived in the back room of Eddie Pederson's clothing store a couple of drinks had been consumed and my father was in no mood to be complimentary to Humphrey. In fact, he unloaded on Humphrey and told him that if he really had wanted to, he could have had me appointed acting postmaster.

Humphrey took the dressing down without saying much but it was apparent this was not a good time for him to linger there. So I took Humphrey back to his staff people at the fair grounds. ON the way, he said, "I guess your father is right. I could have done more for that appointment."" ThenI went back to the clothing store and took my father home.

Whether or not to make upf or missed appointment, Humphrey did me several personal favors later. IN 1952 He arranged for me to be a newspaper civilian guest on a midshipman cruise to Europe, I went on the light cruiser Norfolk with one other newspaper man from Milwaukee and two professor from universities that had ROTC midshipmen on the cruise.

We went through the English Channel and up the Scheldt River to dock at Antwerp, Belgium. There the civilians left the ship to go to Paris for five days, to Madrid for five days and d rejoined the convoy at Lisbon, Portugal. On the way home we went to Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba where they had target practice with big guns at drone aerial targets. I missed the birth of one of my sons by being on this trip and got to meet him two weeks later.

On another occasion Humphrey arranged for me to go on what was called the Joint Civilian Conference (JCOC) which was a one week tour of a base connected with each of the military branches. We started for at the Department of Defense, then on to Quantico Marine Base, where a mock landing was staged indoors because of inclement weather. We watched paratrooper training at Fort Benning, Ga. Then to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida where I was able to handle the controls of a jet trainer plane. Finally we went at Mayport, ?Fla, to spend the night on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Forrestal. I was awakened tin the morning by a steam catapult launching a plane right over my head. Others on that trip were Published Malcom Forbes and movie actor Gene Raymond. It was a memorable experience and I was extremely grateful to Humphrey for the opportunity.

Aside from all thye favors, I considered Hubert Humphrey to be a great American. He was a liberal I believe in and although he was criticized for speaking too much and too long, when you cut through the verbiage his ideas were sound and I was proud to follow his leadership.

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