National Review

Remembering Dusty Rhodes

Dusty Rhodes
National Review invited colleagues and friends of Thomas L. 'Dusty' Rhodes, who died last week, to share some memories of his life and work.

Gary Bauer

The last couple of years have not been kind to the defenders of Judeo-Christian, Western civilization. Last February, word came of the passing of Michael Novak. A year later in February, Billy Graham was laid to rest. Then last week brought the news that Thomas L. “Dusty” Rhodes had also gone to be with our Lord. He will be missed.

Dusty devoted much of his life to fighting socialism and big government. He lent his talents and his financial resources to dozens of conservative projects, organizations, and causes.

Besides serving as president and board chairman of National Review, Rhodes played important roles with several other key conservative organizations, including the Bradley Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, the Club for Growth, the Project for the Republican Future, and on and on the list goes.

He ran to the front lines in some of the toughest fights, including by partnering with Ward Connerly to end racial preferences. He believed in and fought for school choice. Through it all, Dusty was a happy warrior who rejected the gloom and doom that often finds a home in modern conservatism.

As was said by the Apostle Paul, it can be said of Dusty: He fought the good fight, he finished the race and he kept the faith. RIP.

— Gary Bauer is president of American Values.


Terry Considine

Dusty was a lovely man — and one much loved. He was striking in appearance: tall, lanky, well-dressed, with sun-kissed hair and an easy smile. While his pedigree (Wharton; McKinsey; Goldman Sachs) might seem elevated, his manner was simple: love of life, importantly including God and Gleaves. About the first he was certain and, to my mind, not too doctrinaire; about Gleaves, he remained eager, 50 years on, to tell the tale of the courtship that led to their long and happy life together. So, while the news of his passing is saddening; my many memories of our times together are only happy.

We became close friends more than 30 years ago, and remained so even to his death last week. We were drawn together by politics: Dusty and Gleaves, and Betsy and I, were regulars at GOPAC, drawn by Newt’s ambitious plans to change the direction of our country. (He did.) Later, I asked Dusty to serve as a founding director of Aimco, a NYSE-listed REIT; he recruited me for the board of the Bradley Foundation. We planned together the national version of Club for Growth and were business partners at American Land Lease, a second NYSE-listed REIT. We spoke regularly and were together a few days a month for the 15 years before he was slowed by Parkinson’s, a terrible disease. In all, Dusty was a happy warrior, idealistic and patriotic, approaching each day with joyous enthusiasm and a sense of adventure, undeterred by occasional setbacks, which he recognized as the impostors they usually are.

Dusty had a rare gift for friendship. He cared for others, and they loved him. He met people easily and formed long and loyal attachments. He kept up with old friends and cared for all, regardless of their circumstances. Dinners were special treats: cocktails were drunk; good wine was had; jokes were told. Dusty liked to laugh, and we laughed often together. With Dusty, life was brighter, possibilities were closer, days were more fun. He was brave in the face of his disease and died, undefeated.

Vaya con Dios, dear friend! Until we meet again.

— Terry Considine sits on the board of directors of the Club for Growth.


Ed Capano

I had met Dusty, but never really knew him until we served together on National Review’s board of directors in the early ’90s. He had always been a big fan of NR and a good friend to WFB. But Dusty wanted to do more. After discussions with WFB, he was asked to join the magazine as “president,” a title that hadn’t existed until that point. It was a perfect fit, since Dusty was a finance guy and the problem that has plagued the magazine since its inception was — money. In order to bring financial stability to the magazine, he wanted to learn how the business worked — from idea to manuscript to finished product. Dusty and I had long discussions on the various aspects of producing a magazine and the costs involved in printing, production, advertising, circulation, and distribution. He was an eager student and learned quickly. Over the many years that followed until my retirement in 2006, we became fast friends. He always had wise counsel and good advice for the many and sundry problems that constantly arose — all given with that warm smile. I was amazed at the time he spent helping NR through some rough times despite all the other enterprises with which he was involved. Above all, he was a loving husband and a devoted father and a dear friend to many. He was one of NR’s heroes. He will be missed.

— Ed Capano is a former publisher of National Review.


Thomas W. Carroll

I met Dusty Rhodes in late 1990. At that point, Dusty had only touched passingly upon politics. But as he neared his final years at Goldman Sachs, his life was shifting to public affairs and philanthropy. Our joint venture was the creation of CHANGE-NY, meant to challenge the ossified Republican establishment in New York and help ease Mario Cuomo, a left-wing icon, out of the governor’s office. By pushing Republicans to the right and knocking off one of the best-known liberal Democrats in the nation, we hoped to usher in a supply-side renaissance in one of the bluest of states.

Only a few years later, Dusty went from political neophyte to being described by the New York Times as one of the newly elected Republican governor’s “two conservative pillars” (the other being Mike Long, the chairman of the New York Conservative party, a third party on whose line James Buckley was elected to the United States Senate from New York in 1970). In Governor Pataki’s first year in office, a 25 percent income-tax rate cut that Dusty helped design was adopted. Dusty (based on a conversation he had with Roger Hertog) also got the governor to buck the teachers’ unions and push through New York’s charter-school law, an achievement that resulted in more than 140,000 mostly poor and minority students having a shot at a better educational opportunity.

Later, Dusty (along with Dick Gilder, Virginia James, and others) played a leading role in founding the Political Club for Growth, bringing the lessons Dusty learned in New York politics to the national level.

Dusty got things done. But he also was one of the kindest men I have met in my life, devoutly attached to his elegant and gracious wife Gleaves, and a mentor to many people much younger than him. At National Review, Dusty helped secure the post-Buckley financial future of the magazine, but he also believed NR’s future needed to be placed in the hands of the magazine’s younger talent (Rich Lowry and Jack Fowler, among others).

Although the peripatetic Dusty never stood still for long, he always had time for a joke, an encouraging call, or a random kindness. Dusty worked 24/7, and anyone who worked with him expected calls at any moment of the day or night — busting with excitement about his latest idea or a new development. At times, it was exhausting, but one couldn’t help but be inspired by his enthusiasm. Dusty was irrepressible.

Dusty’s seamless success in business, politics, and the world of ideas resulted from an incredible capacity for work, a sharp eye for opportunities, and a contagious personality. His ready smile and the twinkle in his eye were hard to resist.

Parkinson’s is unrelenting, but it shed light on another side of Dusty and his family. Their courage and commitment in the midst of this disease bore witness to their love for each other and their deep and abiding faith.

I will be forever grateful our paths crossed.

— Thomas W. Carroll, president of the Invest in Education Foundation.


Michael Grebe

Along with Dusty’s many friends, and they are a legion, I grieve his passing and extend my condolences to his family. He was a leader of the conservative movement; at the same time, he was a trusted friend and adviser, who cared deeply about other people and was never reticent to show it.

I knew of Dusty and his reputation for many years, but I got to know him well when he and I served together on the board of directors of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee, Wis. He was a significant contributor to the Bradley Foundation’s success in funding many organizations and individuals that became important parts of the conservative movement. In that respect, he extended a long-term, highly beneficial relationship between Bradley and National Review, where Dusty served as chairman and president. That relationship began in 1955, when Harry Bradley, one of the Foundation’s benefactors, was personally generous in supporting Bill Buckley when he founded the magazine. That generosity continued for several years thereafter and began a relationship that persists to this day. An artifact of that beginning can be found in the Foundation’s library in Milwaukee, where some shelf space is devoted to a few volumes of Harry Bradley’s personal library. Included is an original copy of the 1956 edition of the National Review Reader, an anthology of articles from that year’s issues of the magazine. The book is inscribed “gratefully” to Harry Bradley, and signed by all of the members of National Review’s editorial board: William Buckley, Suzanne LaFollette, John Chamberlain, L. Brent Bozell, James Burnham, Frank Meyer, Willmoore Kendall, and Whittaker Chambers.

The close relationship among Bradley, National Review, and the National Review Institute has continued until the present day, and Dusty Rhodes played a critical role in nurturing and extending it. As noted, Dusty served as a member of the Foundation’s board of directors for 14 years, during 1995–2009; at the same time he was also serving as the president and chairman of National Review. His prominent role with both Bradley and NR is commemorated by a fellowship at the National Review Institute currently funded by Bradley.

Dusty served in several leadership positions with the Foundation. He chaired the board’s finance committee, during a time when his acumen for finance and investments was critically important to Bradley’s financial stability. He also served as chairman of the board for six years, during 2002–08. For all of that time, I had the privilege of serving as the Foundation’s president and CEO, in addition to continuing as a member of the board of directors. Dusty was instrumental in convincing me to retire from the practice of law and become a full-time employee of the Foundation. It was, for me, one of the best decisions I ever made. Dusty was an invaluable mentor and adviser to me, and I will always be grateful for his friendship. I treasure the memory of his sunny disposition and positive outlook on life.

The Scottish poet Thomas Campbell in “Hallowed Ground” wrote: “To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” Dusty Rhodes will always live in our hearts. Thank you, Dusty.

— Michael Grebe is the former president and CEO of the Bradley Foundation.


William Kristol

I knew Dusty Rhodes only slightly when the voters kicked the Bush-Quayle administration out of the White House on January 20, 1993, and I don’t really recall how we became close enough over the next few months that we joined to start a new organization, the Project for the Republican Future, later that year. But in a way, perhaps, this says something about Dusty: There was no single dramatic moment, no one memorable occasion, when Dusty and I agreed once and for all that we should try to do something to revive the GOP from its exhaustion after twelve years in power under Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. Dusty did things without excessive drama and obvious exertion. But there we were, with Dusty making possible something I couldn’t have done without him.

As was also typical of Dusty, it was something for which he shunned publicity or credit. Dusty did most of the important work, taking upon himself the task of raising money for a brand-new organization led by a little-known former Quayle chief of staff, joined by a few even younger associates, which claimed it could make a splash and reenergize the Republican party. That little effort turned out relatively well, but it wasn’t obvious that it would in the beginning.

And it’s only in retrospect, having in the intervening years raised money for other groups, that I see how much work Dusty must have put into this. I showed up at dinners he organized and made my pitch, I often would then leave — and, I now realize, Dusty must have had to spend a fair amount of time reassuring these older businessman that this was a gamble worth taking. Surely what reassured them the most was his presence as chairman of the board. They trusted him — and as a result our little Project for the Republican Future was able to do its thing.

In that enterprise, Dusty was an ideal partner. He did much more than raise the money. He gave guidance on all matter of things which he imparted unobtrusively and skillfully. He shared ideas good-naturedly. And he let us, his younger colleagues, pick up the ball and run with it — never even reminding us that there wouldn’t have been a ball without him.

Those two years of the PRF were great fun, for me and I believe for Dusty as well. After that we of course stayed in touch and our friendship remained intact — but we were in different cities with different obligations, and our relationship had nothing like the intensity that being partners in a small organization creates. But we remained friends, and I remained an admirer.

Bill Buckley wrote a fine short book called “Gratitude.” That’s the word that captures my attitude toward Dusty Rhodes — gratitude for what he did and for who he was. And gratitude to have been his colleague and friend.

— William Kristol is the editor at large of The Weekly Standard.


David McIntosh

Dusty Rhodes was a great American patriot, and the Club for Growth mourns his passing.

When I served in Congress, I had the pleasure of meeting with Dusty from time to time. I recall one dinner in particular where we discussed the importance of establishing an organization that later became what is the Club for Growth today. It’s an honor to consider him not only a friend, but also a mentor.

Dusty Rhodes, along with Richard Gilder, founded the New York Club for Growth, which became the national Club for Growth in 1999. Dusty served as chairman of its board from 2007 to 2010 and remained on the board until 2011 when he assumed the status of chairman emeritus. As chairman of the National Club for Growth, Dusty oversaw its transition into the leading national conservative organization promoting economic freedom. In this capacity, Dusty built the Club for Growth PAC into a political force to elect champions for pro-growth policies.

Dusty Rhodes’s leadership is missed by us all, but his legacy of securing freedom for future generations of Americans will live on. May he rest in eternal peace.

— David McIntosh is the president of the Club for Growth.


Lisa B. Nelson

To me, Dusty Rhodes was a man with enough energy to galvanize an entire country. I had the privilege to meet Dusty when I was working at National Review as special projects director. Mine was a unique role because the magazine had never ventured into a place that wasn’t totally consumed with the philosophical writings of William F. Buckley’s conservative vision. I was there to dream up new projects, look for ways to increase revenue, and to create a new energy and projects for our conservative principles.

I couldn’t have done my job without Dusty Rhodes. With a big grin and his relentless happiness, Dusty gave me the room to create and build. Along with his enthusiasm and tenacity, it was Dusty who would ultimately help us launch the National Review Institute. Through the Institute, we traveled with Bill Buckley and a wonderful group of conservatives to Asia and Europe and held conservative summits in England with then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In addition, it was with Dusty that we created the Conservative Summit at the Mayflower Hotel immediately after the inauguration of President Clinton. I will never forget the momentum and support we felt at the summit. We originally hoped for 350 attendees. When we closed the summit, we had welcomed more than 800 attendees.

Dusty’s foresight into the issues of the day, most notably economic and fiscal policy, was a force that contributed to the success of the 1994 elections. With the combination of Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America and Dusty’s ability to bring people together, we saw historic gains that essentially created the success of the Republicans for the next three decades.

As I look back and think about the role Dusty Rhodes played in my life, I can’t help but recognize that he was a man of enormous talent and generosity. He left what was clearly a very lucrative career at Goldman Sachs to give back and change the world. And from my vantage point by his side, I think he did just that.

RIP Dusty.

— Lisa B. Nelson is the chief executive officer of the American Legislative Exchange Council.


Jeff Sandefer

Dusty Rhodes was a friend, a role model, and a hero to me.

Dusty’s optimism, easy smile, and moppish hair made him everyone’s new best friend, and especially mine. He was an even happier warrior than Ronald Reagan, with a positive energy too infectious to escape.

Dusty was a role model because of his work ethic and devotion to family. Few know how hard Dusty worked to keep National Review afloat — hawking advertising, inventing revenue-generating cruises, and launching National Review Institute to plug the deficits Bill Buckley’s letters couldn’t fill. When it came to family, he so loved Gleaves and was understandably proud of his children.

Dusty was a hero because of his unshakeable conviction and character. Like Reagan and Thatcher, he never wavered. He left Goldman Sachs when investment banking was an honorable profession rather than a license to plunder, sacrificing his career to protect future generations from the dead hand of government.

I can feel Dusty’s arm around me, see his smile, and hear him pitching a new idea. I am sure he’s making that same pitch now, in a far better place.

— Jeff Sandefer is the founder of Acton Academy.


Pat Toomey

Dusty Rhodes combined an unwavering commitment to principle with an infectious can-do attitude that enabled him to accomplish very much for the ideals in which he believed.

Put simply, Dusty Rhodes believed in America. He cherished the freedom and equality of opportunity that enabled Americans, from all backgrounds, to accomplish extraordinary things. His sense of obligation to his country led him to devote untold hours, and very substantial funds, to organizations dedicated to preserving and expanding our freedoms.

Dusty founded, led, recruited for, contributed to, and raised money for the most important institutions of the modern conservative movement. From the very early days, he supported and helped guide the Manhattan Institute, the American Civil Rights Institute, and the Heritage Foundation. And for several years, he chaired the boards of National Review, the Bradley Foundation, and the Club for Growth, simultaneously.

Dusty was the chairman of the Club for Growth when he recruited me to become its second president in 2005. It was a difficult year as the leadership transition presented serious challenges to the institution. But Dusty was committed to the mission of the Club — to harness the support of thousands of pro-growth Americans, from all across the country, to elect pro-growth majorities to Congress.

He was equally committed to whatever personal efforts and resources it would take from him to achieve the mission. He called me nearly every day for most of that year — to check in; to offer encouragement; to discuss an idea; to suggest a likely supporter; to offer to make any calls that I thought might help our cause; or just to tell me a good joke. Occasionally stopping by the office, he always took the time to compliment and encourage the staff. Dusty was a pleasure to work with and for. His leadership and enthusiasm were indispensable for the Club’s surviving a tough year and ultimately thriving.

Dusty Rhodes may have done more than anyone to develop and sustain the institutions that have provided the intellectual and political support for the American conservative movement. He did more than his share in defending the freedom he loved and for which he was so grateful.

— Pat Toomey is the junior U.S. senator for Pennsylvania.


Peter J. Travers

I became acquainted with Dusty Rhodes in the mid 1980s in connection with foreign-policy matters. As a young lawyer, I had helped to start an organization called The East-West Round Table, devoted to incubating a new generation of Cold Warriors (we said it more delicately). This venture came to the favorable attention of the redoubtable Leo Cherne, head of the International Rescue Committee, who told me, “You should meet Dusty Rhodes.” So, I did. I had heard stories about this “Dusty Rhodes” fellow from a friend who served with him on the IRC Board of Trustees: Dusty in Pakistan with Afghan refugees, Dusty in Thailand with Cambodian refugees, Dusty cajoling, challenging, guiding the IRC board. “When Dusty walks in the room,” she said, “it’s like a whoosh of pure oxygen.” And, so it was. Marking time and idle blather stopped when Dusty showed up: Things got clearer fast, and solutions snapped to attention.

In 1987, I decided that doing investment banking might be more interesting than drafting the documents that adorned investment banking. I joined Goldman Sachs and, shortly thereafter, got a phone call. All I remember is, “It’s Dusty . . . welcome . . . see me at 2:15.” The call lasted, as I recall, nine seconds. I ended up working closely with Dusty on numerous transactions over several years. When you heard him on the line (there was no caller ID then), your pulse quickened; you knew that whatever was happening, was happening now. I think most of the several hundred phone calls I got from Dusty extended no longer than 15 seconds: He had a kind of pre-Twitter verbal efficiency. But the speed of his communications did not indicate any discourtesy. Things around Dusty just happened at pace.

In the early 1990s, Dusty brought me uptown to the nascent Political Club for Growth. This organization mirrored his style: Six candidates pitch, 20 people write checks, everyone’s at dinner by 7:30 p.m. Many aspirants who came through the Gilder, Gagnon offices of the Political Club for Growth ended up as part of the Republican takeover of the House in 1994.

My favorite time with Dusty was on the legendary National Review trip across Europe and to the Soviet Union in 1990. When we got to Moscow, our hotel was only a block from Red Square. Dusty grabbed me and said, “Let’s go.” We walked past St. Basil’s Cathedral. Dusty swapped packs of Marlboros for Red Army watches and Soviet contraband with some kids hanging around the edges of the square. We walked over to the infamous GUM department store. It was a nice arcade sort of building, but there were no wares except a set of brightly colored Legos in one alcove. Upon inquiry, we were told they were not for sale. We walked out the other side, and down the street to an imposing pile of yellow brick: the KGB headquarters at Lubyanka Square. Dusty turned to me and said, “Let’s take pictures.” He and I stood and looked for a few minutes at that place, the locus of so much terror and human brutality, and at the large statue out front of the old Checka monster Dzerzhinsky. “Freedom,” said Dusty, “is always going to win in the end.” I felt as if I had hitchhiked along on Dusty’s “thunder run” downtown to defeat Communism.

Dusty made an art form out of asking simple, penetrating questions. To that artistry, he added kindness, optimism, honesty, resilience, fearlessness. His effectiveness was no mystery.

Dusty inspired so many of us. When things go awry, or we are inclined to doubt ourselves, our enterprise, our country, I can almost hear Dusty waving it off and saying, “C’mon, let’s go! This is America; we win in the end.”

— Peter J. Travers is the chairman of National Review Institute.

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