Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Call to Greatness

The most challenging and satisfying writing assignments of my life, to date, have been for Joan Anderson Growe, Minnesota's Secretary of State from 1975 to 1999, when she ran for the United States Senate from Minnesota in 1984.

Challenging in that Ms. Growe was taking on Minnesota's male-dominated political and media structure to be the state's first woman elected in her own right to the U.S. Senate (who's making dinner for your kids tonight?). Satisfying in that Joan, as a great teacher (her profession) and perfectionist (her upbringing), always gave her absolute best and deserved the same from those who served her.

I wrote speeches, talking points, Q&A, and ad copy (print, radio & TV) for Joan and coordinated her debate prep. I was also the media advisor and traveling aide. She won a night and day (22 ballot) contest for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party endorsement and a contested party primary that followed.

We had always hoped to finish the general election within 8-points of the 1984 Democratic presidential nominee, Minnesota's own former Senator and Vice President, Walter Mondale. Sadly, 1984 was the year of the Reagan landslide presidential re-election and Mondale carried his home-state Minnesota by an eyelash. Joan was soundly defeated by the incumbent Republican U.S. Sen., Rudy Boschwitz.

Joan was and is a brilliant speech-maker. She cares about words. First, she wanted to be sure of the substance. She would not accept a speech line, a premise, a point to be made without first poking holes in it. Second, she wanted the logical construct to make sense...not just to her but also to the half-dozen other people she would test the speech on. Finally, she wanted her delivery to be flawless. In other words, Ms. Growe was and is a speech-writer's dream as there is nothing more satisfying than having a client who cares as much about her words as you do.

Speech-writing is often a collaborative effort. Two of our finest collaborators were Joan's deputy and longtime friend, Elaine Voss, and Joan's friend and a media genius, D.J. Leary. Elaine settled arguments (yes, Joan cared enough about what she was saying to stand her ground). D.J. taught us what Hubert Humphrey had shared with him; Every Speech Is A Call to Greatness (don't miss the opportunity).

Truth is, Joan Anderson Growe would have been a great Senator (HHH was one of her first and fondest promoters!). Great, in part, because she never accepted conventional wisdom as gospel.

Joan would say, Bob: look at those statistics again. America doesn't have a crime problem. America (with 90+ percent of crimes committed by men) has a MALE PROBLEM.

Touring a Nicaraguan farm, Joan advised her traveling party to be wary as here, supposedly, we were viewing a working dairy operation yet the cow barn had no cats.

Finally, Ms. Growe loved to sum up her pioneering attitude by closing her remarks with a paraphrase of Bobby Kennedy's (George Bernard Shaw) quote: Some people see things as they are and ask, "Why?" I dream of things that never were and ask, "Why not?"

Joan Anderson Growe. Trailblazer & friend.

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