Last week there were a number of high-profile funerals, but the death of a once-towering figure in state politics was completely overlooked.
Jerry Roe was the executive director of the Michigan Republican Party from 1969 to 1979, a time of great upheaval. This was the era when both parties were undergoing major changes. The Democrats were shifting from working-class party made up of rural farmers and industrial workers to its current top-down coalition while the GOP was losing its "country club" old-school Yankee flavor.
Jerry was a moderate Republican, of the Gerald Ford and (specifically) William Milliken variety - low taxes, less regulation and agnostic on social issues. This stance brought him a lot of grief over the years, something he freely acknowledged, but nothing would budge him.
I met him in the summer of 1998, when I stumbled upon a campaign for state representative that he was advising. I was underemployed at the time and without any real direction. I'd dabbled in politics and figured I'd try my hand at the campaign game.
I had no idea who he was, and my first impression was that he was a cantankerous old coot with a keen mind and a way with the ladies. He styled himself The Silver Fox. My nickname for him was The Viagra Viking, and he regaled me with tales of his various exploits over whiskey and cigars.
He was a keen student of political history and I never got tired of talking to him and tapping into his encyclopedic knowledge. I believe he visited every presidential grave and - when prompted - would describe them in detail.
As it turned out, our candidate lost, but Jerry introduced me to a number of people over the summer and into the fall and in January 1999, I landed my first "real" job with a decent salary, health benefits etc. I was now a paid political hack.
I kept in close contact with him during the decade that followed since political knowledge was essential to my career advancement. In addition to advising various campaigns and chasing women, he taught government classes at Lansing Community College and he was (not surprisingly) enormously popular with the students there. I can imagine that his lectures were unique.
During those years I met my wife, married her and we started our family. He was happy for me, but warned me that I had to make a decision: family or career. "If you stay in politics, you're going to get divorced. That's just how it works."
I said I wasn't willing to do that. He said that was fine, but I needed to find another line of work. I didn't believe him, but ultimately he was right. Trying to be an engaged husband and father is fiendishly difficult in the political world. Candidates can sometimes pull it off, but staffers are always "on the clock" and the holidays everyone else enjoys are consumed with parades, booths and door-to-door.
I wasn't willing to do that and naturally that put me at a disadvantage against those who were. When I got canned, he expressed sympathy but gave me a knowing look and I laughed. He told me so.
I saw Jerry less often after I got out of politics. We'd chat on the phone from time to time and get together, but between my family, day job, military career and writing, I didn't have a lot of time. Plus, he was still Mr. Republican and I was now A Man of No Party, so I was less inclined to agree with him as I used to be. I was tired of the whole filthy enterprise, but it was his life's blood.
When I wrote the Man of Destiny series, Jerry was the inspiration for Maxim Darius. Truth be told, there's also a lot of him in Jermah Macro as well, particularly the womanizing element. The scenes where Darius explains things to Peer Graff are based on similar conversations we used to have.
Over the last few years, Jerry suffered a series of health problems, including a heart attack that almost killed him. He wasn't expected to pull through but did, and marveled at his good luck. A couple of years ago I tried to get in touch with him but he was undergoing an episode of dementia, and I was told to stay away.
Happily, he recovered and I was able to sit down and chat with him this spring with the obligatory glass of scotch (no cigars, thankfully). I gave him autographed copies of my books, and showed him the dedication, which he loved.
I'm told that a memorial will be held in November, but not even a death notice has gone out. Someone updated his Wikipedia page (he was always proud that he was important enough to have a Wikipedia entry), but that's all I've seen.
Hopefully he'll do well in the Final Caucus. Rest in Peace, Jerry.