Monday, May 31, 2010

Remembering Wally Hickel

"They Got Old Wally," read the caption on the wonderful political cartoon by Wright in the The Miami Daily News. The animals of the forest were lamenting the firing of Secretary of the Interior, Walter J. Hickel, by President Nixon. About the same time as the shooting of the students at Kent State, the secretary had written a letter to the President, expressing his concern for his five sons and his opposition to the Viet Nam war. Before the letter got to the President's desk, it was leaked to The Washington Star by a member of the Interior staff. Wally assured us that he meant it to be "eyes only to the President."

I am able to post that cartoon on my blog, because the pack rat I live with saves everything that is and was memorable and historic. We have always loved that cartoon and felt it was telling in so many ways. Today, we only have to change the caption to:

"Godspeed Wally. We are glad we knew you."

President Nixon sent Ron to the Department of Interior to help Wally get organized. Their friendship was one of mutual trust and admiration. Almost as soon as Ron arrived at Interior, the late Frankie Hewitt, executive director of Ford's Theater, approached him with a plea to help her save the historic Theater. It was on it's way to becoming a morbid museum to a murdered, martyred President. Frankie envisioned keeping it as President Lincoln enjoyed it, a living and vibrant theater. Ron talked to Wally about it. They agreed to help and Ford's Theater is alive and thriving today because of their involvement. Years later, that same Frankie Hewitt, now sporting the title of Fords Theater's Artistic Director, gave the Lincoln Medal jointly to Ron and Wally for helping to make sure Ford's Theater would continue to present live theater and be such an important part of our Nation's Capitol heritage. If you have a chance, be sure to visit the museum in Ford's Theater. It was recently re-designed by Richard Norton Smith. It tells the historic story of the famous theater in a way that is informative, wonderful and quite a work of art.

Wally and Ron traveled extensively during the time they worked together. One especially memorable trip was to Micronesia. It was the first time a Secretary of the Interior had visited the region. Ron, used to the ways of Presidential campaigns, arranged with the hotel to have all of the Hickel's telephone calls routed through him. The first morning, Ermalee, Wally's wife, called early to place their room service breakfast order. Ron, not wanting to embarrass Mrs. Hickel, did his best to sound like a hotel employee, and then got dressed and went to the kitchen to pass along the request. Years later, when he finally told Ermalee what had really happened that morning, they had a good laugh. Ever since then they have made a point of talking and laughing about it again and again. Ron's impersonation of the room service order taker is what makes the story so hilarious, so writing it on a blog does not do it justice. Sorry about that.

Here's the Secretary with some of the children of his staff members. Our three daughters are there; Lisa is in the white headband, Marja is second on his right and Lynne got the place of honor on Wally's lap. Note the two-page frame under the lamp. That's how President Nixon's daily schedule was framed on his desk and Ron made sure that the Secretary of the Interior had the very same schedule holder. Wally loved it.

Because he was fired, the President and Wally did not speak for several years. When the President was going to be meeting with Japanese Emperor Hirohito in Anchorage, Ron made arrangements for the Hickel's to host the President and Mrs. Nixon at a dinner in their home. Ron says he is proud and very glad that he was able to bring the two men together once again.

When President Nixon appointed Ron to be Director of the National Park Service, the two men had even more to talk about. Wally was always a wise and welcome confidant.

Years afterward, Ron would often go salmon fishing in Alaska with his pal Homer Luther. Their fishing camp, Enchanted Lake, was very remote and Ron would usually overnight coming and going, at the Anchorage Hotel Wally owned, The Captain Cook. This meant the old friends could have dinner and enjoy spending some time together.

Walter J. Hickel was a two time governor of the State of Alaska, a mover and a shaker for awhile in Washington, DC, and a one-of-a kind great guy. He took a practical view of the conflicts between the environmentalist and the oil companies. He was against locking up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He used the settlement money from the Exxon Valdez oil spill to help repair Prince William Sound.

In 1969, the first year of Wally's Secretaryship, the oil spill took place in Santa Barbara, California. Union Oil was the culprit that time. Wally wanted to make sure they did everything possible to clean up the mess. He asked Dick Kleindiest, then deputy attorney general, to do some research and see exactly who was legally responsible. They found a 1867 law that stated that the entity causing the leak was responsible to clean it up. Wally was on the beaches of Santa Barbara almost immediately. Taking names and directing traffic.

Wish he could talk to us today about what is going on in the Gulf Coast and the efforts of BP to stem the damage. He definitely would have strong opinions and we need his wise counsel and leadership.

On this Memorial Day, especially, we think of our heros and pause to offer our thanks and remember their service to our Nation. Yea, they got old Wally, but we got to have him for awhile. Weren't we lucky!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Anne: I hope all your blogs get put together in a book; they are just tooooo good to disappear after a posting. Thank goodness for your memories on behalf of so many. Sally