In my 25 years as director of FairVote, I have had the opportunity to meet and work with remarkable men and women from all walks of life and parts of the globe. One of my most prized and enduring friendships was with former Congressman, presidential candidate and FairVote board chair John B. Anderson, who died this week at age 95. John’s passionate embrace of innovation, independence, and voter empowerment defines what FairVote has been and aspires to be.
I first heard of John as a 17-year-old who was excited by what he had to say in 1980 in the Republican presidential primaries and his independent campaign. Already white-haired, John had seemed older to me in 1980 than he really was, so I was surprised he was still so actively engaged in opening up politics when I first met him in June 1992. Introduced to FairVote by Howie Fain, John came to hear about our reform vision at the Washington, D.C., home of Sam Smith just a week after our founding meeting in Cincinnati. He immediately became an energetic and insightful ally who helped steer our efforts for decades.
John first agreed to serve as chair of our national advisory board and within weeks wrote an oped in the New York Times on how Ross Perot’s presidential campaign helped show the value of ranked choice voting. Later he served as our president and board chair until turning over the reins in 2008 to Krist Novoselic. John was always willing to do what we asked, embrace new ideas, and draw energy from the young people who so regularly were drawn to our reforms, like Illinois’ Dan Johnson. When a college student, Dan met John at our 1995 national conference in Boston and ultimately became a close family friend who worked with John in creating a string of reform openings in Illinois.
John spoke on our behalf in states across the country and was always willing to hop on public transportation for a key meeting or media appearance in D.C. Given how unassuming he was, it was always a refreshing reminder to be with him when meeting our leading political lights, who invariably showed just how much respect he had earned during his 20 years in Congress and decade in the House Republican leadership. Whether it was conservative Republicans like Henry Hyde, moderate Republicans like Jim Leach, Tom Campbell and John Porter, Democrats like Lee Hamilton and Mo Udall, independent and third party leaders like Lowell Weicker and Ralph Nader, or journalists like Eleanor Clift and Brian Lamb, John was someone people wanted to listen to and appreciate.
Although slowed physically in recent years – and not happy about it, as he would be quick to tell you --John continued to be a devoted father, loving husband of his ever-delightful wife of 64 years Keke, and sage source of advice and insight. When I last saw him in September and realized those days were likely over, it was a hard blow that left me weeping. He truly was a great man and indefatigable optimist about what our democracy can be. I will miss him, and offer a final toast: to John B. Anderson, leader, reformer, visionary, husband, father and friend. Thank you for a life well-lived.
For more on the legacy of John B. Anderson, see our tribute page.