My relationship with Phyllis was perhaps a consequence of my father’s relationship with her in the 1950s and early '60s when he was publisher of the staunchly conservative St. Louis Globe-Democrat and she was a brilliant young conservative activist from next-door Alton, Ill. In fact, her father-in-law and mother-in-law lived literally next door to us in St. Louis as I was growing up.
I was a conservative by osmosis but was vaccinated by A Choice Not an Echo in 1964 and constantly re-vaccinated by many subsequent Phyllis Schlafly books, columns, brochures, radio commentaries and endless other infusions. Phyllis was, and still is, invariably cogent, thoughtful, insightful, and just plain right (no pun intended) on virtually every issue. As a fellow Harvard grad who majored in political science, former editorial writer and publisher, and student of contemporary American life, I like to think that I’m at least somewhat knowledgeable about the issues Phyllis deals with. I have found that when I disagree (at least initially) with Phyllis on some things, I question my own assumptions, not hers, and often I repent. It’s just hard to argue with all the facts and logic she marshals.
There are three contacts with Phyllis over the past quarter-century or so that I especially recall. The first was in 1989 or so when Phyllis came to an Eagle Forum Leadership Conference event in Montgomery, Ala., where I was the publisher of the local paper. I was asked to introduce her. The hardest part was to keep the introduction under a zillion words, as her life has been so spectacular it is no wonder that for many years she was on the list of the world’s 10 most admired women.
Anyway, I must have done OK in my introduction then because she wrote me in 1994 asking me to be one of four people – with Ambassador Faith Whittlesey, writer George Gilder, and Sen. Jesse Helms – to speak at a testimonial dinner and reception in Washington, D.C., honoring “ her three decades of leadership of the conservative, pro-family movement,” as the program described it. Phyllis’ letter, which I still have, said: “I picked the people I really wanted…You are the one speaker who knew me before my ERA life began, even before my Choice Not an Echo life began.” To choose me, instead of any of the many giants with worldwide recognition she could have selected, is something I will always cherish with appreciation. I hope I did her justice that evening.
The third contact that had special meaning to me was around 2005 (I simply don’t recall the exact year). At that point I was general manager of The Washington Times and lived in Washington, D.C. I learned, as an Eagle Forum member, that Phyllis was going to speak and debate one evening at American University, less than half a mile from my home. Of course I went, and arrived a little early. There in a non-descript classroom sat Phyllis with, as I recall, one other Eagle, surrounded by scores of students whose philosophy for the most part deviated greatly from hers. She did her usual brilliant job of mopping the floor with the lefties and convincing those whose minds were not closed. “My God!” I recall thinking, “she’s in her 80s and still fighting the good fight here and at dozens of other campuses – and winning hearts and minds through superior intellect, argument and knowledge.” She amazed me then, and continues to, as she nears her (can it really be?) 90th birthday.
The woman who launched Barry Goldwater’s presidential bid through her three-million-copies-sold A Choice Not an Echo; who singlehandedly defeated the Equal Rights Amendment; who still mobilizes thousands of Americans to action; who breezed through college with all A’s in three years despite working 48 hours a week at night in a St. Louis ordnance plant during the war; who got her master’s in seven months at Harvard with professors saying she was one of the best students they had in years; who got a law degree with honors in her spare time; who co-authored two books (Kissinger on the Couch and Ambush at Vladivostok) that may well have stopped ratification of the SALT II agreement that President Ford had signed at Vladivostok; whose many other books have shaped American nuclear strategy, American thought on current issues such as crime and welfare, women’s self-esteem, and the public’s knowledge of communism over the years; who raised six children without full-time help and personally taught them at home so that each skipped first grade and achieved high honors throughout their student years; who at age 22 ran the successful congressional campaign of a conservative candidate against an entrenched incumbent despite holding a full-time job of her own; who as of some years ago had already testified before more than 50 congressional committee and state legislatures (the current total is undoubtedly much higher); who still heads or has headed a number of important national and state organizations; who has numerous other extraordinary achievements that could be mentioned – this is a person not excelled, and probably not equaled, in American history, in my sincere belief. Her energy wears me out!
I’ve said publicly that I think it is divine inspiration that Phyllis came to live in Alton, Ill. That is where Elijah Lovejoy, the abolitionist editor, was murdered by a howling mob in 1837 for standing up for what is right. Fortunately, Phyllis has not met that same fate, although she is at least as outspoken as Lovejoy, one of the giants of journalism (as is Phyllis with her syndicated newspaper column and radio show). And speaking of giants, Alton was also the home of Robert Wadlow, the so-called “Alton Giant,” who at almost 9 feet tall was the tallest man in the world ever recorded. Surely it was divine inspiration that Phyllis Schlafly – who indisputably in my mind is the tallest woman of the past century in America – hails from where the late Alton Giant lived.
When Phyllis was honored as a St. Louis Globe-Democrat Woman of Achievement in 1963, before her seminal book A Choice Not an Echo was even published, my father said, “Phyllis Schlafly stands for everything that made America great and for those things which will keep us that way.” I cannot improve on those words, and I most certainly agree.
By Richard H. Amberg Jr., Montgomery, AL; retired newspaper executive