In Gratitude for a Life Well Lived — and Even on Capitol Hill!

Earlier this week, I mentioned the death of a good man who had been a great light in Washington, D.C., Michael Schwartz, most recently chief of staff to Tom Coburn. Senator Coburn paid tribute to him on the Senate floor when Lou Gehrig’s disease forced his quasi-retirement at the end of 2012.

I’ve been told to warn you this time that you might want tissues nearby before viewing.



Some friends of Mike share some memories and gratitude for a life of loving generosity:


Evan Feinberg

The first time I met Michael Schwartz, he was red in the face and spittin’ mad during a meeting of pro-life advocates. This passionate, fist-pounding defense of the rights of unborn children, it turns out, was signature Mike. And thus, my first impression of Mike turned out to be both accurate and enduring. He was one of the most passionate, and principled, people I have ever had the privilege to know.

Not long after we met, I had the opportunity to serve in Senator Coburn’s office, where he was my chief of staff for three years. In this new venue, I quickly learned that Mike’s passion was only rivaled, and surpassed, by his gentleness, love, compassion, and genuine interest in the lives of everyone he knew.

Mike was the perfect combination of passion and gentleness.

God has called us to believe and fight for what is right, and Mike was a tireless advocate for truth. Yet He has called us to do so “with gentleness, correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25).

During Mike’s funeral, I strained to think of a single instance in which Mike ever dealt with his employees and colleagues with anything but kindness and humility. I could not. Despite his fiery nature, I never once heard him raise his voice in anger toward an employee or colleague.

For every time I heard Mike railing against a political opponent’s arguments, I witnessed him putting his arm around someone who disagreed with him to reconcile political differences and honor a greater love. There were days where it seemed like everyone on Capitol Hill was, as Mike would tell you, a “good friend.” To Mike, there was no distinction between the woman who rang him up in the Senate cafeteria and the chairman of a powerful committee. He treated them all as God’s children and afforded them the same love, respect, and attention.

I have been deeply blessed by the wonderful friendship — and great investment — Mike made in my life. He taught me incredible things during my three years working with him. When I came back to the Hill to visit with him recently, his health clearly deteriorating, I wanted to ask him about how he was doing. But Mike would hear none of that. He was concerned about how my family was doing, and he wanted to know how he could assist me with the next steps in my career.

As Dr. Coburn said in his floor tribute, “Mike has been the kind of person who has always focused on others.” Now, Mike has left us, and what we have to hold on to are both our wonderful memories, and most importantly his enduring legacy. It is my prayer that I will be able — in some small way — to keep his legacy alive by emulating both his passion and his gentleness through a life focused on service to others.

— Evan Feinberg is a former aide to Senator Coburn.

Douglas Johnson

Mike Schwartz worked for decades without interruption in the cauldron of Washington, D.C., on many of the most contentious public-policy issues of our time. Mike was fearless — even fierce — in defense of the right to life of unborn children, and of his Church. Yet at the same time, he was also always a model of civility and a font of good humor. I will surely miss him.

 — Douglas Johnson is legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee. #more#

Jennifer Marshall

Mike Schwartz relished the good fight. With a glint in his eye, a scheming grin, and frequent flashes of righteous indignation, he would head eagerly for each new front to defend life and liberty, rallying fellow warriors along the way.

My first encounter with Mike was in 1994 as an intern at the Family Research Council (FRC). He had just written a paper for FRC on the most recent version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, reauthorized that year under President Clinton. Rather than a dry dissection of its 500-plus pages of technical policy, Mike wrote a blow-by-blow account of the storied pro-family policy victory known as “H.R. 6.” That outcry ground Capitol Hill to a halt for days, beating back an amendment by Representative George Miller (D., Calif.) that had threatened to deal a deathblow to homeschooling by forcing parents to be certified in every subject they taught. Retelling the victory was another way to rally.

Nothing animated Mike like the dignity of human life, born and unborn. That passion extended to his concern for the least of these, and Mike always encouraged our efforts to establish a greater conservative antipoverty presence.

After an antipoverty meeting a few years ago, Mike recognized a staffer passing by in the hall. He collared the young man and playfully hassled him. The upshot of it seemed to be “get thee a wife.” Mike was bent on personally bending the marriage curve back up.

Mike had his own version of the Genesis 2 account of the creation of woman, and it went something like this: God said everything he created was good — even down to the pond scum. But God said that man alone is not good, and that puts him, well, a little worse off than pond scum. Get thee a wife, young man . . . the Schwartz rally to marriage.

He told that creative account again the last time I saw him, after lunch last fall near Capitol Hill with a couple of long-time friends. The voice was hoarse, but the conviction was as intense as ever and the humor as vivid. We parted ways at a juncture in the sidewalk, and he headed back toward the Capitol.

Leaning on his walker, he was still headed back to the fight. I watched for a while longer, knowing it could be the last time, and missing the rally cries already.

— Jennifer Marshall is the director of domestic policy studies at the Heritage Foundation.

Patrick B. McGuigan

It always made sense to me that a Philadelphia guy named Mike Schwartz — like me, a devout Roman Catholic and ardent conservative — wound up working for my fellow Oklahoman Tom Coburn, both during the good doctor’s three terms in the U.S. House and during both of his terms in the U.S. Senate.

Like Coburn, with Mike Schwartz what you saw was always what you got: Honesty, integrity, passion, commitment, an ability to “dialogue” with policy opponents and a fearless, and methodical approach to the intricacies of issues.

Mike and I worked together in the 1980s at Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation.

He focused on Catholic Church issues, notably including the clergy sexual-abuse scandal that was then percolating just beneath the surface of public awareness. 

He embodied courage in speaking truth to power when, in a press conference at the National Press Club, he called on leaders of the Church in America to grapple with clergy sexual misbehavior sooner rather than later. He argued for forceful action both as a matter of morality and of practicality.

He declared, prophetically, that the wrongdoing would, as more became aware of it, shock the consciences of the American Catholic faithful and shred support for Church leaders who averted their eyes from the scandal.

For his devotion to the Church and to common sense, he was denounced by some church officials at the time for even raising the issue. If more Church leaders had heeded his words, God knows the difference it would have made.

Mike was more like an Isaiah than a Jeremiah. He was stern when needed, but a happy warrior over all. 

He worked tirelessly to help Dr. Coburn solidify his pro-life leadership in the nation’s capital and here at home. 

In our long telephone conversations since the Reagan years, Mike was always a source of invaluable insight and clarifying honesty to me. 

I believe he was greeted in Heaven with those words that overwhelm all the calumny and meanness of this fallen world: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” 

— Patrick B. McGuigan is the  editor of CapitolBeatOK

Robert Moffit

Michael Schwartz was the bright and personable chief of staff for Senator Thomas Coburn, a physician, and one of the most principled men serving in the world’s greatest deliberative body. Mike was one of the Senate’s top “go-to guys” for congressional staffers, pro-lifers, and social conservatives.

Mike was in Washington, but he was not of Washington. While he served at the seat of power, he never forgot the source of that power: the good folks who pay the bills.  

Mike came of age in Philadelphia in the tumultuous 1960s, and attended rallies sponsored by the Young Americans for Freedom, the future ground troops of Youth for Reagan. He learned early that success in politics depended upon the ability to know and be known in the City’s ethnic neighborhoods. Mike knew the drill: make connections when and where you can, always return favors, and stay good to your word. It was also the time that the city’s politicians, business bigwigs, and union bosses were stunned and overwhelmed by the rise of the legendary Mayor Frank Rizzo — the biggest thing to hit Philadelphia since the Declaration of Independence.

On a personal note: In 1991, former Democratic Mayor Frank Rizzo challenged the Republican machine for the Republican mayoral nomination. Edward Moffit, my brother, simultaneously launched a campaign for a conservative slate of five (“Family First”) candidates for Philadelphia City Council, including himself. The Republican establishment candidates were well financed and utterly uninspiring. “Family First” was an exciting and unexpected insurgency with a conservative agenda. Mike traveled to Philadelphia to help the rebels, bringing along Joseph Barrett of Maryland, a shrewd consultant to pro-life Democrats. Following Mike’s advice, the “Family First” team worked the neighborhoods the old fashioned way, door to door, and brought large numbers of social and economic conservatives (who might have otherwise stayed home) out to the polls.

While the “Family First” team did not win, the GOP establishment was suddenly forced to spend precious time, energy, and resources defending the bottom of their ticket while fending off the larger voter turnout of the resurgent Rizzo. Rizzo won.  

Mike Schwartz was a great asset in Washington because he was genuine to the bone. He knew who he was, he never forgot where he came from, and why he was in public life. That is among the many reasons why he has gone to a better place.

— Robert Moffit is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

Robert Morrison

Michael Schwartz and I only disagreed once in more than 30 years of friendship. I was leaving the White House clutching my little Union Jack. We were part of President Bush’s crowd of happy natives assembled in 1992 to greet Queen Elizabeth II. Michael and Joe Barrett had organized a protest by the Ancient Order of Hibernians against Britain’s “occupation” of Northern Ireland. That was Mike. He never let an opportunity pass to live out his faith, fight for his convictions, or score one for the pro-life side. In 1989, the political side of the pro-life cause was on the ropes. After the Supreme Court’s disappointing Webster ruling, President Bush went fishing. He said nothing to rally our side. And the pro-choicers were vowing “we’ll remember in November!” Jim Courter in New Jersey and Marshall Coleman in Virginia quickly turned tail, but got buried in their governor races. Some 44 House members abandoned the unborn.

Mike and Joe Barrett saw a chance to stop the hemorrhaging — in Pennsylvania. Arlen Specter Republicans had tapped pro-choicer Barbara Hafer to run against the quietly pro-life Governor Bob Casey (D). Mike and Joe recruited Scranton housewife Peg Luksik to challenge the GOP establishment pick. Running a kitchen-table insurgency — and with their intimate knowledge of grassroots politics — they racked up 43 percent of the vote in the Republican gubernatorial primary. That near-upset was enough to convince Bob Casey to become vocally — eloquently — pro-life. He buried Hafer in the biggest reelection landslide in the history of the Keystone State. But for Michael Schwartz and Joe Barrett — not to mention the bright and breezy Peg Luksik — our pro-life movement might have buttered out in 1990. That it survives to fight to this day is a tribute to my dear friends. When I think of Michael Schwartz, I think of that Unionist editor in Tennessee who vowed to fight the rebels “until hell freezes over — and then fight them on the ice!” God rest you, Michael. 

— Robert Morrison is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council.

Michael J. New an assistant professor at the University of Michigan–Dearborn who does work for the Witherspoon Institute at Princeton and the Charlotte Lozier Institute:

Schwartz was a behind-the-scenes strategist for pro-life efforts on Capitol Hill. He is probably most well known for serving as the Chief-of-Staff to Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK). However, Schwartz also served as the director of the Free Congress Foundation’s Center for Social Policy and as national director of public affairs for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. He was also part of the group that met in 1973 to plan to first ever March for Life. He was exceptionally knowledgeable about the history of the pro-life movement and gave a great presentation on the subject at a Students for Life of America (SFLA) conference several years ago.

I remember my first meeting with Michael Schwartz. It was after the release of one of my Heritage Foundation studies on the impact of state level pro-life legislation. I was announcing the release of a study at a gathering on Capitol Hill. Someone from Senator Coburn’s office indicated that Michael Schwartz wanted to meet with me afterwards. He took a real interest in my research and we had a long conversation about the current direction of the pro-life movement. Afterwards he would quickly respond to any question I had about old articles or papers which I thought could help me with my research.

Even in the months leading up to his death, Schwartz frequently met with pro-life leaders to think and strategize. Before his passing, Schwartz received the National Pro-Life Religious Council’s Pro-Life Recognition Award at the National Memorial for the Preborn and Their Mothers and Fathers. He was a great friend, a great activist, and a great leader. He will be missed. RIP.

— Michael J. New is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan–Dearborn who does work for the Witherspoon Institute at Princeton and the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

Bill Saunders

Through the many years I knew Mike, one of the constant things was this — he was a font of ideas on how to advance the pro-life cause. When I visited him a couple of weeks ago, that had not changed — though he was quite debilitated by his illness, his mind was overflowing with ideas. Indeed one may say of Mike that his life was one of unwavering commitment to the greatest human-rights cause of our time, the pro-life cause. He was also a man of deep personal integrity and unfailing good cheer. The number of people he helped is legion, and where others might become discouraged by a particular pro-life defeat, Mike would simply see an opportunity to move forward on another front.

The first time I met Mike I noticed that he carried a small book in the pocket of his sportscoat. The book wasn’t a novel or other light reading — it was a classical philosophic text. I asked him about this, and he said he always carried such books (small enough to fit unobtrusively into his jacket pocket) so that he would not waste time during the inevitable delays between meetings. That was Mike — always learning, always committed, always caring. I learned a lot from him, as did so many others. We will miss his physical presence among us, and will trust that he will continue to help us in the future through other means. 

— Bill Saunders is senior vice president of legal affairs at Americans United for Life.

Bill Wichterman

In the days before the Internet, I met Mike Schwartz as he walked from one congressional office to another delivering a missive from the Congressional Family Caucus, where he was the executive director. Mike was in his 40s, which seemed old to me as a young congressional staffer. He had gray hair even then, and I remember thinking that Mike was probably just a little bit . . . weird. I had met many such people, peddling their pet ideas door to door, thinking they could change the world. I was so wrong about Mike in one way. Mike was not weird. Passionate, yes. Smart as they come, yes. Well-read, analytical, strategic, full of integrity, yes. Intent on changing the world, emphatically yes. Mike cared so much about justice for all — the unborn, the voiceless, the powerless, the poor, children, widows — that he would do anything to further their cause. Including walking office to office to highlight the latest assault on human dignity and what should be done to set it right.

Mike became for me a mentor in the pro-life movement. I distributed far and wide his visionary plan on how to restore a culture of life. If you wanted to get a rise out of Mike, you had only to mention the Supreme Court, whom Mike held in very low regard for their decisions against the unborn. One slow afternoon on Capitol Hill, I e-mailed Mike, a chief of staff to then-congressman Coburn, a question about original sin. Thirty minutes later I received a 1,200-word reply that explicated Genesis in detail. Mike loved theology because he loved God, which is also why he taught the adult catechism class at his parish church. He wanted me — and everyone — to join the Roman Catholic Church he loved. Mike was a Democrat almost until the end of his life. It made us laugh, because he never voted that way.

Life was paramount for Mike, but he never stopped hoping his party would embrace the cause of the voiceless and defenseless. When Senator Arlen Specter, a native of Mike’s beloved Philadelphia, left the Republican party to become a Democrat, Mike left the Democratic party. He never wanted to be a member of the same party as Specter. I love Mike (not just loved, because Mike is now more fully alive than we who remain). And I already miss him. But I can’t help but smile when I think about the reception he received from his Lord and Savior on Sunday night when he breathed his last. Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into your rest.

— Bill Wichterman is a White House and congressional veteran.

Genevieve Wood

Mike and I worked together at NET (the conservative TV channel pre-FOX News launched by Paul Weyrich). Like much of television and Washington, the place was predominantly run by people in their 20s. Mike seemed to relish the opportunity to develop the thinking of those around him — always willing to lend a good story or two on the history of an issue and how conservatives should view it. I learned a good deal about policy and politics from Mike over the years but my favorite memory of him took place when we co-hosted a live TV program together. With about 20 seconds before going live the first night, Mike took my hand and led us in a short prayer, asking God to not only make sure the cameras and lights all came on (a request that went up regularly at NET) but also that God would help us choose our words wisely throughout the program. I know Mike was opposed to human cloning, but we could certainly use more people like him in Washington.

— Genevieve Wood is a vice president for marketing at the Heritage Foundation.

We can lead good lives of principle and courage. Mike did. R.I.P. 

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