Jack French Kemp 1935-2009

Jack French Kemp 1935-2009

“Dash of greyhound, slipping thongs…”

On Eleuthera, where we spent many win­ters, there was fas­ci­na­tion with U.S. Pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. A virtue of island is that racism, in the sense we all know it, doesn’t real­ly exist. Our easy-going trop­i­cal strand fea­tures smiles of wel­com­ing locals and friends who have known each oth­er for years. It just doesn’t seem to mat­ter whether the face in front of you is black or white.

So it was per­fect­ly nat­ur­al for the wife of our local gro­cer to ask me in 2008: “Is it pos­si­ble for a non-white to be elect­ed President?”…

…And for me to reply with­out even a thought: “Sure. In fact it was pos­si­ble twelve years ago, if the tick­et had been Col­in Pow­ell and Jack Kemp.”

I am firm­ly con­vinced it was possible—not only because Col­in Pow­ell is a man vast num­bers of peo­ple like or admire; but because Jack Kemp, was equal­ly so: a politi­cian who, like Churchill, nev­er wrote off any vot­er, who believed that his lib­er­tar­i­an phi­los­o­phy could appeal to all, that it was the height of patron­iza­tion to sin­gle out minor­i­ty groups and declare that they must have more gov­ern­ment because they can­not get by with less of it.

Kemp at speed

Jack was a man who lived life at max­i­mum veloc­i­ty, whether as cham­pi­onship quar­ter­back for the Buf­fa­lo Bills, as a U.S. con­gress­man who pro­mot­ed enter­prise zones in inner cities, as an empow­er­ment-advo­cat­ing Hous­ing Sec­re­tary, or as a can­di­date for Vice Pres­i­dent who described him­self as a “bleed­ing-heart con­ser­v­a­tive.” But you can read all about those achieve­ments by search­ing the web. I would rather write about what he meant to Churchillians.

The Tenth Inter­na­tion­al Churchill Con­fer­ence in 1993 was a stel­lar occa­sion. We wel­comed Lady Thatch­er, Win­ston Churchill, Ambas­sador Kirk­patrick, Celia Sandys and Gen­er­al Pow­ell. We held a ser­vice at the Wash­ing­ton Navy Yard Chapel which dupli­cat­ed that of Roo­sevelt and Churchill at Argen­tia in August 1941, with vet­er­ans of USS Augus­ta and HMS Prince of Wales to read the Lessons. We host­ed Ambas­sador Alan Keyes, who not only sang five nation­al anthems includ­ing God Defend New Zealand, but all six vers­es of The Bat­tle Hymn of the Repub­lic—with­out music in freez­ing cold on the steps of the Lin­coln Memo­r­i­al. As Churchill wrote of Argen­tia: “Every verse seemed to stir the heart. It was a great hour to live.”


Jack Kemp was our keynote speak­er at that con­fer­ence. He spoke words of wis­dom and inspi­ra­tion, deliv­ered with vig­or and humor. When his intro­duc­er made so bold as to com­pare him to a for­mer con­gress­man named Abra­ham Lin­coln, Jack rose in haste to dis­claim even the slight­est sim­i­lar­i­ty. After her appre­ci­a­tion fol­low­ing his speech Jeane Kirk­patrick and Jack embraced: old col­leagues, vet­er­ans of polit­i­cal wars, togeth­er again, even though (as Jeane told me at din­ner), they had dif­fered fer­vent­ly over the 1982 Falk­lands War, with Jack firm­ly on the side of Mar­garet Thatch­er and Great Britain.

Supply sider

Jack and his gra­cious wife Joanne were with us again at the com­mis­sion­ing of USS Win­ston S. Churchill in Nor­folk in 2001, and we dined togeth­er in the ward­room. His last run for office was six years past. He was still pas­sion­ate about what The New York Times called his “most impor­tant idea.” That was the the­o­ry that tax cuts woiuld lead an eco­nom­ic boom. Lost rev­enue lost is more than off­set by tax­es on greater earnings.

“What was it that Churchill said about Sup­ply-Side eco­nom­ics?” Jack asked between bites.

“He didn’t say any­thing about Sup­ply-Side eco­nom­ics,” I replied. “He was a Liberal!”

“Yes he did!,” Jack retort­ed. “You know, about keep­ing mon­ey in people’s pockets.”

Lat­er I looked it up and sent it to him, because of course he was right. Churchill’s words ring as true now as when Churchill spoke them, ion 16 August 1945, Per­haps they have tem­porar­i­ly fall­en out of favor:

What noble oppor­tu­ni­ties have the new Gov­ern­ment inher­it­ed! Let them be wor­thy of their for­tune, which also is the for­tune of us all. To release and lib­er­ate the vital springs of British ener­gy and inven­tive­ness, to let the hon­est earn­ings of the nation fruc­ti­fy in the pock­ets of the people….

Godspeed, Jack

Jack Kemp, a pho­to inscribed to my late par­ents, Har­ri­et and Michael Lang­worth, 1993.

In Jan­u­ary 2009 Jack Kemp announced that he was diag­nosed with can­cer. He said he was under­go­ing tests but gave no oth­er detail. Scarce­ly four months lat­er he was gone. Imme­di­ate­ly I thought of the words Churchill offered, as only he could, quot­ing from Adam Lind­say Gordon’s grand poem “The Last Leap,” upon the death of his dear­est friend, Lord Birken­head:

The sum­mons which reached him, and for which he was equal­ly pre­pared, was of a dif­fer­ent order. It came as he would have wished it, swift and sud­den on the wings of speed. He had reached the last leap in his gal­lant course through life. All is over! Fleet career, Dash of grey­hound slip­ping thongs, Flight of fal­con, bound of deer, Mad hoof-thun­der in our rear, Cold air rush­ing up our lungs, Din of many tongues.

2 thoughts on “Jack French Kemp 1935-2009

  1. What’s up, all is going per­fect­ly here and ofcourse every one is shar­ing infor­ma­tion, that’s in fact excel­lent, keep up writing.

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