National Review

Thomas L. Rhodes, R.I.P.

Dusty Rhodes

Dusty Rhodes was a leader of National Review and a hundred other things. He is one of the most important conservatives of recent times whom the public has never heard of. Let’s talk about him a little.

He was born Thomas Llewellyn Mathews on July 15, 1939, in New York City. Both of his parents worked as models. He was handsome too. His parents divorced not long after his birth, and he never saw his father again.

He did much of his growing up with his maternal grandparents, who were Welsh immigrants. His grandfather was a building superintendent in Spanish Harlem. That was Dusty’s environment. “There were lots of fights,” he once said: gang versus gang, ethnicity versus ethnicity. “It was like West Side Story.”

Throughout his life, Dusty was an unusual mixture of Eastern Seaboard aristocrat and gritty street kid.

His mother married a man named Rhodes, whose name was conferred on Dusty. Dusty was really “Tommy” in this period. He would acquire the nickname “Dusty” in the Army. That name is a natural for men named Rhodes.

He went to the University of Pennsylvania and later its business school, Wharton. He liked to say that he graduated first in his Wharton class. What he meant was, he snagged the highest salary coming out of school. It was $12,500 a year from McKinsey & Co. Dusty wanted to beat a kid named Mike Fitzpatrick, who had snagged $12,000 from someone and was bragging about it (according to Dusty). McKinsey initially offered Dusty $11,500. No, he said, it had to be more. Amazingly, McKinsey upped its offer to $12,500 — making Dusty champion.

One spring break in college, he went to the Bahamas. So did a girl named Gleaves Sydnor. They met, hit it off, and, in due course, married. They would have three children.

After a few years at McKinsey, Dusty went into business for himself, with a partner. They went bust. But Dusty learned many lessons, and, after a very lean period, landed at Goldman Sachs. He would become a partner of the firm. He had an international career, with extensive experience in the Middle East and Europe. His peers testify to his acumen, doggedness, and charm.

He had a taste for politics and policy. He had ideals and convictions. In 1970, he volunteered for the campaign of James L. Buckley, an older brother of WFB. JLB was running for Senate in New York. Dusty served as a driver. “I found that, when I had to go somewhere in Westchester County,” says JLB, “there at the airport would be this splendid guy, with a wonderful smile — so intelligent, so bright.”

Two years later, Dusty worked as an advance man in Nixon’s reelection campaign. One day, he was in charge of the confetti for a parade down LaSalle Street in Chicago. Big problem: He discovered some confetti-makers using copies of Penthouse magazine. He had a nightmare vision of a big flake landing on Mrs. Nixon’s shoulder, as the TV cameras zoomed in. Dusty was able to prevent that.

In the mid 1980s, Dusty joined the National Review board. “I want to defeat socialism,” he told WFB. WFB valued him highly. He would make him president of the magazine, a post for which Dusty accepted no salary. NR was in sore need of sound fiscal management. This, Dusty provided.

He had a hand in any number of pots. The International Rescue Committee. GOPAC. Educational reform, especially school choice. The National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. The Bradley Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, and the Heritage Foundation. The Club for Growth. Everyone leaned on him, everyone relied on him. He responded with verve.

Pat Toomey, now a senator from Pennsylvania, was the president of the Club for Growth. “Dusty personally put an enormous amount of work into the club,” he says. “He was very generous with his financial commitments, and he was even more generous with his time and energy. If things got rough, he would do more.” There was “nothing in it for him,” says Toomey. Dusty was just a patriot who loved free enterprise. Bill Kristol gives pretty much the same testimony. Dusty helped him with PRF, the Project for the Republican Future.

Ward Connerly counts Dusty as his most loyal ally. Connerly is the civil-rights leader who has campaigned against race preferences. Dusty called him the bravest man he ever knew.

About Dusty’s generosity, you could tell any number of stories. Here’s one: He had a friend who was bilked by Bernard Madoff, who bilked a great many in an infamous Ponzi scheme. This friend of Dusty’s received many, many calls from other friends saying, “Hope you’re okay, this is awful.” Dusty’s call was different. He said, “Do you need money?”

Dusty Rhodes was a classic American: decent, square-dealing, risk-taking, entrepreneurial, fun.

Dusty Rhodes was a classic American: decent, square-dealing, risk-taking, entrepreneurial, fun. He was also classically democratic, treating everyone the same and wishing everyone well. No one ever had more friends, and they were of varying political stripes, or none.

America was basically designed for a guy like Dusty to rise in: a place free of class and station and other such restrictions; a place where your talents and efforts can take you far. Dusty Rhodes was unstoppable in America.

As you can tell, he meant a great deal to us and many other people. He passed away on Wednesday at age 78. R.I.P.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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