Sunday, September 28, 2008

An American hero

THE LATE John Seiberling was remembered Saturday with soaring affection in the spacious sanctuary of the Bath Church-United Church of Christ.  The memorial service for the former Akron congressman, an unapologetic liberal Democrat,  drew more then 200 friends, many from his former Washington staff as well as the family and  others  from his 14th District that he served   so honorably  for eight terms.  The ten speakers who rose to the pulpit described him in terms reserved for noble giants: Courageous... Prinicipled... Unyielding to his opponents.  "A man of fortitude and with a fabulous mind," said  Loretta Neumann,  one of Seiberling's key assistants in his Washington office who tirelessly  directed the steps leading to the service.

Grand  embellishments of the lives of the dead are not hard to come by.  However, in Seiberling's case the recognition of  his accomplishments in a day of cynical and even depraved distortions of the truth were not only accurate - but fully deserved. He set a  standard for committed public service that few others can ever hope to achieve. A determined environmentalist, he is regarded as the father of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, working across the aisle with Rep. Ralph Regula, the Navarre Republican, to win White House and congressional support.  Appearing  in park uniform at the pulpit, CVNP superintendent John Debo  solemnly credited Seiberling with "battling the obstacles" to preserve 33,000 acres for the benefit of the millions of visitors to the park today. He concluded by lifting his hat that  had been out of view behind  the podium. "I honor an American hero," he said. "Our hats are off to you."

Seiberling's remarkable accomplishments extended well beyond the CVNP.  He played a central role in sponsoring legislation that created the Alaska Lands Act of 1980 that preserved 100 million acres in the state that is creating such a fuss these days with a vice presidential nominee whose views on conservation seem to change  with each sunrise.    

None of this was easy and certainly the opposition to his environmental goals grew, particularly in Alaska,  where the hard-liners accused him of carpetbagging - and worse.  One can imagine how it would play  today among those who insist that destructive global warming is a myth generated by crazy liberals like Seiberling.  Not that he would care.

As a political writer who covered Seiberling on the homefront  throughout his tenure in Washington, I was always impressed by his low-key expression of his mission - "Mankind is my business" -  his dedication to the arts and his droll response to candidates who came at him for eight terms.  I covered the first debate he accepted with a Republican restaurant owner who wanted at least a half-dozen more.   The challenger was s0 quietly destroyed in the first one that I asked Seiberling why he had agreed to do  more. "If he wants to debate," Seiberling said seriously, "I can't very well ignore him. It wouldn't be right."  I said that would be fine, but this would be the last time that I would show up to report on such a mismatch.   Seiberling replied with a soft laugh.

But you can find the essence of the man in Saturday's printed program.  Here, we let him speak for himself:

              "We will never see the land as our ancestors did.  But we can understand
               what made it beautiful and why they lived and died to preserve it. And
               in preserving it for future generations, we will preserve something of
               ourselves.  If we all have an interest in this land, then we all have a stake 
               in its preservation.  There is no more worthwhile cause"...  

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