Last Friday, I flew from St. Louis to Kansas City for Reagan-Lincoln Days. This event is the Missouri Republican Party’s statewide annual gathering. Lost in thought at the security line, I heard the familiar voice of Tom Schweich call out from behind me. He was with his wife lovely wife Kathy. We walked together to the plane, chatting about nothing in particular.
We were not able to sit together on the plane, but we did share a ride from the airport to the hotel that was hosting the event. Our conversation was light and touched on topics from Bolton (John, not Michael), collectible coins, my new job at Eagle Forum, and a good deal about our families. Tom sat in the front passenger seat insisting that the back seat was “where the dignitaries sit, Mr. Chairman – for one more day.” Tom was a thoroughly pleasant man.
The hoary saw “Politics is not Beanbag is every bit as true as it is cynical. I remember clearly the first time someone called me “corrupt.” I was running for Congress and a man whom I did not know, and could not possibly know me, shook my hand, narrowed his eyes and said “I know you, you’re Ed Martin, and you’re corrupt.”
He spit the words out with such venom that it made me shudder. I thought fleetingly about slugging the man but just grimaced and turned away. It put me in a foul mood.
Alas, I learned that when you run for office this is what you can expect. You will be terribly dispirited if you complain or dwell on these unprompted and unfair personal assessments. I learned to take them with some bemused interest while thinking to myself “Hey, pal, you don’t know me ….”
When you run for office a whole lot of people are very supportive: they know you, love you and they recognize your heart and intent, and give you the benefit of the doubt. Having that kind of support is wonderful, but its antithesis is pretty awful. I understand why politicians develop this thick skin and can seem remote. No matter how many people support you, in your mind you know that there are many who call you everything under the sun but what your mother named you. It’s a strange and disorienting business, politics.
We really don’t know people in public life. But we think we do and we judge them thus, often with a harshness that is hard to fathom. Tom Schweich was a friend of mine. By that, I mean, I knew him more broadly than just his political persona. I was a young associate at Bryan Cave when Tom worked there as an attorney. The community of Saint Louis is small enough that charitable and social work will bring people together as interests in community service overlap. I obviously know him from politics both as a candidate and policy leader.
Tom and I broke bread together, he’s invited me over for dinner at his home with his family and we’ve been out for lunch or supper together.
I knew he loved his wife and kids; that he collected coins, autographs, and posters; that he loved John Bolton and his tough brand of foreign policy; and on and on. He was a fearless auditor. Tom was unsparing as he held everyone accountable for the public trust. He loved doing his job.
Mostly, I knew Tom as a driven, successful man. And honest. To a fault perhaps. Tom wore his heart and his mind on his sleeve. This morning, when I woke up having slept on the terrible news, I wondered if I was really his friend. The burdens of life can be ominous – Lord knows I’ve felt that groaning weight. I am blessed with my wife and family and so many friends who will share my burdens and for whom I share my love. I wish I could show that love to Tom. I offered it in my prayers last night and today but it felt very weak.
That Tom has died is a mystery to me. It still seems unreal. If the burdens of being a public figure were part of his tragic death, it makes me think about how we as a society treat people we do not know.
The Lord said that we should judge others in the way we would want to be judged. Without plumbing the significant depths of this simple, profound statement, one facet I find is that we should be humble, and not rush to think harshly of someone just because we oppose them, or that they are different. Mercy needs to be the first filter through which our words and thoughts pass.
God created every man and woman in His likeness. And any loss of His creation is infinitely sad. I also believe in a God who is generous and merciful that He sent His only Son to save us all. That God, so merciful and kind, will take up Tom now.
I will lift up my friend Tom Schweich in prayer before the merciful God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will have confidence that he is at peace.