Saturday, June 14, 2008

Politics--Then and Now

For some reason, the passing of Tim Russert yesterday has really struck me. Through the years, I watched his show on MSNBC regularly. I loved the way he spoke of his family, his Irish Catholic roots, and the way he talked to people. There was something inherently kind about the way he approached people.

I was home yesterday when Kerri came and told me that she saw on the news that he had died suddenly. So I watched MSNBC and saw the emotions of so many of the journalists who worked with him.

I am not always a fan of the media, but I always felt there was something different about Tim Russert. In my position as a principal, I have experienced the media first hand. I have seen how a story can be twisted to make it look enticing. I have had reporters ask me questions that were meant to get a certain angle to a story. That is why I don't always believe what I hear and see on television news or in the newspapers.

This morning I was watching a special on his life on MSNBC. Because of the proximity of our ages, there are so many parallels in our lives. They talked about his Irish Catholic upbringing and how his 7th grade nun had such an impact on his life. I still remember Sister Georgina Marie at Loretto School in Douglas. She was also my 7th grade teacher. We had a candy store at school to make money for different things. I remember Sister Georgina put me in charge of the candy store that year. I learned so much from that experience.

The special also talked about how Tim's
dad took his family to see President Kennedy in a motorcade in Buffalo in 1962. They showed a piece where Tim talked about what President Kennedy's election meant to his working class family. I remember to this day watching the debates between Kennedy and Nixon. I remember the day that the Arizona Republic had a negative editorial about Kennedy and what could happen if he was elected president. I remember coming home from church that Sunday and my mom calling the Republic collect. They actually accepted the charges. She terminated our subscription to the Republic in that conversation and it was not allowed in our house until many years later! I remember election night and how four very close families came to our house to watch the election results. I remember how excited and proud we were when Kennedy won.

In November of 1961, Senator Carl Hayden was celebrating 50 years in Congress. My Uncle Tom worked for Senator Hayden and was coming to Phoenix for this event. My Aunt Teresa was given a ticket to the $100 a plate dinner at the Westward Ho Hotel. We came up to Phoenix for the weekend. Tom and his wife, Mary, were staying at the hotel. We went to visit them and heard that there was going to be a press conference. So my cousins, Teresa and Marion, Judy, and I ventured out into the hotel. We walked up some steps and talked to some men. I believe that they were probably secret service agents. After they talked to us, they let us continue up to the floor. We got to the area where the press conference was being held. I told the people at the door that I was a reporter for a Douglas school newspaper. For some reason, they allowed us into the press conference. We called my uncle's room and he couldn't believe that we had gotten into the press conference. So my mom and my Uncle Matt went looking for us. They were not able to get past the secret service!!

So here we were in the first row right next to the cake in the shape of the Capitol. In comes President Kennedy, Vice President Johnson, Senator Hayden and many other prominent politicians. I remember President Kennedy looking over at us and winking. We were the only young children in the room. Vice President Johnson talked to us for quite some time because everyone was making a fuss over Senator Hayden and President Kennedy. I remember him putting his arm around my shoulder and how very nice he was.

The next morning, there was the picture from the press conference in the newspaper. You could see my profile and Teresa Ann's. (I'm the one kneeling right by LBJ with my hand on the table.) There was proof that we were there!! I still have that picture. It is hanging on the wall in our house.

My Uncle Tom got me an autograph some time later from President Kennedy. It says "To Sheila Shannon with every good wish! John F. Kennedy." I also have that on my wall along with my mom's invitation to Kennedy's Inauguration.

I think those experiences are the reason that I have always been interested in politics and why I have always voted in every election.

When my mom ran for City Council for the first time, I took a few days off of school and took my kids to Douglas. I wanted them to be a part of this experience. On election day, we helped by picking up older people and taking them to the polls to vote and making phone calls. There was a victory party that night because my mom had beat the incumbent something like four to one.

Four years ago when John Kerry came to the valley, we took Cameron to that event. I feel that it is so important for children to be exposed to the political process of this great country. Everyone has a voice no matter who you are. Voting is a civic duty and we are fortunate that we live in a country where we are able to have a voice!!

The passing of Tim Russert brought all of these incredible memories back to me. I feel fortunate to have learned so many lessons about the importance of voting and participating in our democracy from my mom! She is my "Big Russ!"

3 remarks:

velvet brick said...

So beautifully remembered, Sheila.
Thank you for sharing it with all of us. I will miss Mr. Russert, as well. His passion was infectious and admirable. I hope his family finds some comfort in knowing that he is spending Father's Day with Big Russ.

Anonymous said...

I spoke to Tomas about this entry. He remembers your Uncle Tom and his Washington career. I also remember you telling me of this experience of yoursat the press conference with Senator Hayden, President Kennedy and President Johnson. Absolutely amazing. Being at the right place at the right time plus some good old Irish grit on your part. Thelma Sanders always said your mom would make a great mayor!!
Now the legacy continues.....with your children and grandchild being given first hand exposure to the political process of our great country!!
Sandra and Tom

Anonymous said...

Sheila, I feel the same way you do about Tim Russert. When I heard of his death, it left an empty spot in me. The memorial yesterday brought tears and laughter as it reminded me of our family how we can look back and laugh at the funny things that have happened especially at family reunions -- Paul and Mrs. Levy and Tony telling how it happened. YaYa