Visual Aid: Yard Signs
Reading: Mr. Adams and the Trio in “Practicing Democracy”
David Webber June 2017
Mr. Adams, perhaps the central character in my play, “Practicing Democracy,” is a composite of at least three people who have had lasting influence on my thinking about politics and democracy. In the play, I refer to Mr. Adams and his two like-thinking buddies as “the Trio.” In my real life, they are probably Jay Stern of Parkersburg, WV a retired banker, World War II vet, and philanthropist; Harriet Woods, a Missouri state senator, Lieutenant governor, and women’s rights leader, and George Parker and a World War II pilot and Purple Heart recipient, a Missouri state legislator, and founder of the Pachyderms, a Republican discussion club.
Each was a rather imposing figure to me—members of the GI Generation, people of accomplishment who were, surprisingly, accessible to me, partially because of their personality but also because of my position as a political science professor. They could be rather demanding in conversation, but they each listened, and had a clear vision of how politics should be yet they were not dogmatic. I called them Jay, Harriett, and Mr. Parker.
Jay Stern (1913-2009)
I met Jay Stern in 1984 when a West Virginia University colleague thought I would enjoy talking with him. He was a retired banker and business man who tried to deed his bank to the U.S. Treasury to reduce the national debt rather than to charge what he considered to be usurious interest rates. During my last two years at West Virginia University (1984-86) I, with another WVU older colleague, visited Jay at least six times for day long discussions that rivaled the best graduate school seminars. He funded several projects for my classes and a study of the West Virginia jury selection system. He established the Interactivity Foundation dedicated to improving collective decision making thru a process he called Plenary Review. He believed that dialogue resulted in finding what people had in common and the discovery of new alternative solutions to complex problems.
I was reassured that I have Jay Stern accurate in my memory because the dedication of the Interactivity Foundation of his biography is: “Thanks for ‘keeping the faith’ in the people and the possibilities of our democracy.”
Harriett Woods (June 2, 1927 – February 8, 2007)
I met Harriet Woods in her Lieutenant Governor’s office in the Missouri State Capitol in February 1987 in response to an article in the S. Louis Post-Dispatch about how universities could help legislators make better public policy. I was immediately impressed with her depth, her willingness to listen, and to talk nuts and bolts not just general principles. I have formal contact with her over the next few years and was invited to participate in end-of-the-session legislator seminars she organized and sponsored in 1989 and 1990 at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Harriet was defeated for the U.S. Senate in 1982 and 1986 and was president of the National Women’s Political Caucus from 1991-95. One of my best memories of my talking with an elected official is sitting on the wall between the U.S Capitol and Supreme Court on a spring Friday night in 1993. We both had been out for an evening walk and noticed each so stopped and talk. After a few minutes, she said something like “Let’s sit down here for a while.” I remember looking at the Capitol dome and discussing whether our political system lived up to the hopes of our Constitutional founders. I bumped into her once at the St. Louis Botanical Garden in about 2002 and talked about the beauty of the garden. (I vaguely recall that she had rediscovered the violin which she had once played).
She wrote STEPPING UP TO POWER: THE POLITICAL JOURNEY OF AMERICAN WOMEN (2000), a copy of which she inscribed to me ”For David: who is helping us on the journey.”
George Parker 1923- 2009
I met George Parker very early after I moved to the University of Missouri in 1986 and most certainly prior to 1992 when I recall him discussing that year’s Congressional race. I spoke with him dozens of times at public forums and the public library (he lived next door). I visited him at his home in 2001 when I ran for the Columbia School Board and got some tips. He invited me at least three times to speak to the local Pachyderm Club. He read my local newspaper op eds and teased me that I was more conservative than him on education issues. I agreed with him about reducing the size of the legislature and increasing citizen involvement in government.
Parker served 21 years in the United States Air Force, flying B-26 bomber missions in World War II and receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross and two Purple Heart medals. In 1966, Parker became the first Republican elected in Boone County, Mo., since before the Civil War. He served three terms in the Missouri House of Representatives. He was one of the only Republicans who belonged to the Unitarian Universalist Church.
One of Mr. Parker’s long-term frustrations was higher education’s failure to prepare citizens to accept their role in self-government. He often asked, “How can we have all these colleges and universities and none of them teach a course on how to run for office?”
I always called him “Mr. Parker”—he was forceful, a gentle giant, full of ideas. Several times he loaned me newsletters and reports that he thought would interest me.
I liked the slogan of the Pachyderm Club that he had made as a bumper sticker “Free government requires active citizens”
I read his columns.
There are 120 boxes of material at the Missouri State Historical Society.
Jay, Harriet, and Mr. Parker are each rolled into Mr. Adams
Mr. Adams lives in my head. After I wrote the script of “Practicing Democracy” I recognized the personas, words, and convictions of Jay Stern, Harriet Woods, and George Parker. I recognized Mr. Adams’s belief in classical democracy, the impact of his military experience, his patience yet persistence with a younger generation, his desire for analysis and information, his fine insight into others. Mr. Adams is a banker like Jay, a veteran like Jay and Mr. Parker, a reader like all three of them, an optimist like Harriet, a listener like all three of them. Mr. Adams is trying to find their own way to use his assets and abilities to promote his classical notion of democracy—just like Jay, Harriet and Mr. Parker.