“We, the People, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.
As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government.” President Obama, Democratic National Convention, Sept. 6, 2012.
Forty four years ago I met George Dunn. I lost my dear George just a few days before President Obama delivered his acceptance speech uttering those elegant words in Charlotte, North Carolina. Though George had stage four lung cancer, we were both certain that we would be sitting together watching the election returns in November. It won’t happen. I am sad.
The tall, good- looking, bright, young man from America’s heartland whom I met in the fall of 1968 was the iconic American. He was certainly not anything like me, a 5’9″, 140 pound Jewish kid raised in a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. George was a big man, a handsome man, well over six feet and 200 pounds, with a deep radio announcer voice. Born and raised in Bloomington, Indiana, he successfully battled polio as a child; his dad owned the local Dr. Pepper bottling plant. His mother was a “Seward” a pioneer Bloomington family. George graduated from Indiana University where he played center on the football team, was a “Young Republican “, read Ayn Rand, and was a member of ROTC. George served in the military, and earned a Masters Degree from Northwestern. George voted for Richard Nixon and married a beautiful young woman named Civia. He was a skilled artist; he hunted; he fly-fished and answered the phone “George Dunn here.” George was different from me; he metaphorically came from a different planet. Most improbably and most fortunately, George became my dear, dear friend.
I was most intrigued by George’s lack of prejudice, his capacity to remain calm, and his practice of observing and pondering before reaching a conclusion. The ability to modify and change ones view of the world is uniquely human. At this, George excelled.George’s life was filled with success and sprinkled with hard times. He succeeded at some businesses, failed at others. He lost a young son to Reyes Syndrome and raised three beautiful, bright children to adulthood. And when we lost him, he was a most loving grandpa to a dozen prized grandkids. As the years passed and our friendship grew, George honed his artistic skills, lost some hair, gained too many pounds and allowed his compassion to grow without constraint.
Had Nate Silver, arguably today’s most skilled political forecaster, met George in 1968, he would have predicted that George would be a “Romney man” today. After all, George was from Central Indiana, a businessman, a Christian, a gun owner, a reader of Ayn Rand, and most importantly, raised in a Republican family. However, Nate would have been wrong, incredibly wrong, because above all, George was a proud “Citizen” of this country. George understood that bad stuff happens to good people, knew the history of racism in this country, respected science, loved nature and understood its fragility. George abhorred willful ignorance, understood that the government’s role is defending its citizenry while simultaneously providing help and opportunity for those in need.
George was an honest man, a decent American, a citizen. For George, it was simple and obvious: citizens don’t attempt to buy elections; citizens don’t exploit the ignorance, the fears, and the prejudices of others. Citizens don’t deny the people’s lawful right to vote. Citizens are not driven by greed and avarice; they are driven by a sense of what is good; what is fair; and what is compassionate.
George, my good, fair and compassionate friend, I will miss you so much on the night of November 6, 2012. I fervently hope that your friends, your family, your neighbors and your fellow citizens care about this country as much as you did. It was an honor and a privilege to know and love you.
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