Hamilton Jordan was the Chief of Staff to President Jimmy Carter. At age 32 or so, when Jimmy Carter was in his first year as Governor of Georgia, Hamilton wrote an 80 page document outlining how he could become President. Jimmy Carter followed it to the letter, and this unknown peanut farmer from Georgia who had no chance in the world to become President became President. President Carter acknowledges that fact today, and all of us in Georgia are well versed in the legend of Hamilton Jordan.
Hamilton died 2 days ago at age 63. He had battled cancer for 20 years. I am passing on to you a message sent to me by Hamilton’s good friend, and my good friend, Scott Miller. Scott Miller is one of the great marketing minds in America. He is Chairman of the Board of Zyman Group, a marketing company that works with the biggest and best companies in America. I thought you would enjoy his thoughts on Hamilton.
From: Scott Miller
Sent: Tuesday, May 20, 2008 9:33 PM
To: Zyman Group
Subject: Our Dear Friend Hamilton
Hamilton Jordan died at 8pm tonight. Some of you got to meet him and I’m so glad of that. He lived a life we should all aspire to live. It’s not about “Ham Jordan” and winning the White House at 39 years of age. That’s an asterisk in this man’s life. He came back to Atlanta and submerged himself in his duties and passions and loves. He saved Jimmy and Rosalind Carter from their own narrow-minded and scatter-brained approach to their work – he straightened out the Carter Center and focused the two of them on missions that would give single-minded purpose to their lives and restore their image as caring and capable people.
He fought cancer (and won every time except this one) … but took on the fight for all the others; lobbied Congress, wrote helpful books, always (and I’ll bet right up until today) took the calls from the mother or son or daughter or husband or individual facing this frightening diagnosis and needing a compass to find the way through. He did that for my wife, Denise. He was the first call I made when she was diagnosed with cancer and he was the first person to our house with a hug and a thousand ideas and unyielding support. We’re not special … there must be ten thousand individuals he helped through this. He convinced Governor Roy Barnes to ennoble our state forever with a commitment of $2 Billion to cancer research, much of it for Emory’s exemplary Winship Cancer Center (the Denise he helped save is now on their board, fighting on in his spirit).
Hamilton, as only and singularly Hamilton could feel, sensed guilt for the Carter Administration’s failures in Washington. That led him to become a force for decency and reform and good in government (he never stopped believing in a government that can do good). He worked for Ross Perot in that spirit. Always behind the scenes, not in front of the camera and never trading on his fame, he kept working for what’s right. He created the Unity Party with Sam Nunn, Michael Bloomberg, Chuck Hagel and other bipartisan supporters to force the Democrats and Republicans to squarely face the challenges our nation and our world must meet.
Late last fall, when it looked like I might come out of my comfortable cocoon and join Zyman Group, it was a difficult time for Hamilton. His friends were going to make their peace and say goodbye. I’m a well known coward, so I couldn’t face that. When I went to visit, I didn’t reminisce, I just talked about business and about what my own hopes were to change the world … just a little bit at a time. At the end of my visit, I kind of sheepishly asked, “Well … great seeing you, old friend. Uh, do you think it would be okay if I came back tomorrow?”
His thoughts and advice were so clear and bright and objective, I wanted more. Later I brought David and Kate and Sergio with me. It got embarrassing to keep visiting and taking … eventually I asked Hamilton if he would come and work with us. He complained that he didn’t have much to give. I disagreed.
Last week, Kate set up a meeting for us to talk with him about possibly establishing a strategic base in Washington for us, foreseeing the changes coming in January of ’09. Now he’s gone. But maybe not really gone. I hope I can keep his great intentions and great spirit alive, if only just a little bit. I think we should all think about ways we can in our own lives. Not just in our work – that’s not so important now, is it? But in everything we do. Say a prayer for Dorothy, Kathleen, Hamilton Jr. and Alex tonight.