The Corner

Not to Pot

It’s a pleasure to write for National Review, but about a month ago I had the unpleasant task of writing an obituary of Dan Searle, a great conservative businessman and philanthropist. Michael Greve is a Searle Scholar at AEI. This week, he prefaced a set of remarks with his own remembrance, which is worth sharing:

I was enormously fond of Dan. Obviously, I would not stand before you today without his exceptional generosity to me, both at AEI and, as Chris mentioned, in my earlier career. But I admired Dan for many other things.

Dan reposed great confidence in the people he had decided to support—even when their projects did not turn out exactly as originally envisioned. I myself am a good example. The original plan was for me to study the basic institutions of a free society, about which Dan cared deeply. Six months into my AEI appointment, I went off and studied—state attorneys general. (Next in the study of free institutions: the Tonton Macoutes.) Even so, Dan continued to trust my judgment. His confidence was not only a cause for gratitude but also a constant source of inspiration and dedication.

Every now and then, I would send Dan a brief report on my recent activities. I always received the same letter in reply: “Dear Mike,  It looks like you have been productive. I’m not sure I fully understand all of your points, but I sure don’t understand your optimism. From where I sit, it looks like the country is going to pot. Best, Dan.” I always wrote the same reply: “Dear Dan,  The thought that the country is going down the tubes has occurred to me, too. But then, if either of us really believed it, neither of us would be doing what we are doing.”

I do not know whether Dan was really as gloomy as all that. But if he was, he had an astounding ability to shake it off and, with redoubled energy, to find people and projects that just might turn the tide.

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.


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