Did you hear the one about the Texas great-grandmother, who, two days before her recent 92nd birthday, laced up her orthopedic shoes and then jumped out of an airplane?
Phyllis Guthrie, who earned a doctorate degree at age 78 before climbing a mountain in the Alps at age 82 isn’t ready to settle for making the afternoon Bridge game at the Waterview Senior Living Center in Granbury, Texas, the highlight of each of her remaining days.
So she jumped.
“If George Bush can do it, then so can I,” she told Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter Sarah Bahari, referring to the former president’s sky dive to celebrate his 90th birthday.
The world needs more Phyllis Guthries with long bucket lists and fewer people content to live vicariously through others’ feats.
We also need more statesmen and fewer unremarkable politicians at every level in government.
Too many politicians seek office for the thrill of the ride and the notoriety and power it brings.
What we consider “good politicians” too often are those who simply have figured out how to manipulate the levers of power primarily for personal gain and without any real intention of accomplishment.
“The statesman’s allegiance is to loftier objectives,” Lawrence W. Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic education, wrote in an essay outlining the characteristics of true statesmanship versus the mediocre politics we see too much of today.
Many of the eligible voters who stay home on Election Day have made it clear: they would engage if office seekers at least aspired to act in a more statesman-like, less-partisan manner.
It would also reconfigure Washington and Frankfort in ways that would make both of those cities—and the policies emanating from them—look and function much differently.
What if, for example, we had more men and women who already had accomplished much in their own lives sacrificially taking time away from those endeavors to serve the general welfare instead of folks seeking to hold on to power for what they can get out of it or because it’s the only kind of work they know?
How different is a statesman like the ancient Cincinnatus, who would have contentedly remained anonymous in the annals of history, enjoying life on the outskirts of Rome in the fifth century with his wife Racilia on their three-acre farm.
However, when the Roman Senate called, he answered, dropping his plow to become the nation’s all-powerful military leader in order to deliver the city of Rome itself from vicious tribal armies at its gates.
Cincinnatus could have reveled in power and riches for the rest of his life with absolutely no worries of being term-limited. Instead, he relinquished power and returned to his farm after a mere 15 days.
America had its own Cincinnatus in George Washington.
Washington like his historical counterpart attained near-mythical status, not just due to the fact that he led the fledgling Continental Army to victory over the British Redcoats against all odds or even because he served as the nation’s first president.
He was admired and respected by his fellow Americans because of his genuine statesmanship demonstrated by not just a willingness but an eagerness to relinquish power.
Washington rejected Connecticut Gov. Jonathan Trumbull Jr.’s attempts to convince him to run for a third term as commander-in-chief, writing to the governor that he wanted to avoid being “charged…with concealed ambition.”
Great-grandma Guthrie said she jumped out of that plane because she wants her family and friends to have a way to remember her.
“I want to leave a legacy,” she said.
While there are many qualities of statesmanship, none results in a richer contribution to momentous legacies than men and women who leave lives of individual accomplishments, genuinely sacrifice for the good of others and seek only enough power—holding on to it only long enough—to complete their assignments.
Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute; Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at [email protected] Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.