Fred J. Eckert

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Fred J. Eckert
FredJEckert Picture.jpg
United States Ambassador to Fiji
In office
1982–1984
President Ronald Reagan
Preceded by William Bodde
Succeeded by Carl Edward Dillery
United States Ambassador to Tuvalu
In office
1982–1984
President Ronald Reagan
Preceded by William Bodde
Succeeded by Carl Edward Dillery
United States Ambassador to Kiribati
In office
1982–1984
President Ronald Reagan
Preceded by William Bodde
Succeeded by Carl Edward Dillery
United States Ambassador to Tonga
In office
1982–1984
President Ronald Reagan
Preceded by William Bodde
Succeeded by Carl Edward Dillery
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 30th district
In office
January 3, 1985 – January 3, 1987
Preceded by Barber B. Conable, Jr.
Succeeded by Louise M. Slaughter
Member of the New York Senate
from the 54th district
In office
January 1, 1973 – February 11, 1982
Preceded by Thomas F. McGowan
Succeeded by William M. Steinfeldt
Personal details
Born Fred James Eckert
(1941-05-06) May 6, 1941 (age 76)
Rochester, New York
Nationality American
Spouse(s) Karen Eckert
Children 2 sons and 1 daughter
Residence Raleigh, North Carolina
Alma mater University of North Texas
Occupation Retired U.S. Ambassador and Congressman
Religion Roman Catholic

Fred J. Eckert (born 6 May 1941) is an American political and diplomatic figure and writer. He is best known for his unwavering conservative principles while holding public office and his early advocacy during the 1970s of causes that many years later became major public policy issues, such as public pension reform and replacing lifelong teacher tenure with renewable contracts.

He is also known for the high regard in which he was held by President Ronald Reagan, who said of him: “He has a quality that is all too rare in the political world – he has political courage; I am a personal witness to that courage.”[1] Reagan referred to Eckert as “a good friend and valued advisor”[2] and “a man of great experience and wisdom – one of a kind.”[3] Eckert was one of the few of Reagan’s legion of backers whom he asked to call him “Ron,” a practice Eckert declined to follow after he became President.

Early Life and Career[edit]

Ambassador Eckert was born in Rochester, New York, and grew up in its largest suburb, the Town of Greece. He is a graduate of the University of North Texas, where he majored in government and minored in both history and journalism. He worked as a journalist for the Richardson, Texas, Daily News while attending college.[4] A movement conservative while in college, he was a contributing editor to The New Guard, the magazine of Young Americans for Freedom.[5]

Following college and his marriage to his college sweetheart, Karen Laughlin of Morton, Mississippi, he served as Assistant Director of Mass Communications for the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America (Maryknoll Fathers) and was recruited to join the public relations staff of a major Fortune 500 corporation, General Foods, at its White Plains, New York, headquarters. While living in the New York City area he took advanced courses in advertising, public relations and television scriptwriting at New York University and at The New School for Social Research.[6]

Returning to Rochester he joined the area’s largest advertising and public relations agency as an account executive working on Kodak and Mobil Chemical accounts. At age 27 he challenged the local Republican Party establishment in a primary election contest for control of the government of the Town of Greece (pop: 75,000) in the area’s first primary election in fifty years. He sought the Supervisor (elected CEO) office, handily winning in what was viewed as a stunning upset and carried his entire town council team with him.[7] Despite the defeated party establishment then fielding an “independent” slate in the general election, the Eckert team again won in a landslide.[8] Two years later the Old Guard Republicans challenged him in a primary for re-election and he again won both the primary and general elections by landslide margins.[9]

In 1972, the party establishment asked him to be the Republican candidate against a well-entrenched Democratic State Senator and agreed to his terms for doing so. He won in what was again viewed as a stunning upset. A major part of his campaign was his constant warning that the state’s public pension costs were “a ticking time bomb that will eventually blow huge holes in state and local government and school district budgets unless reined in,” an issue no other candidate in the state was raising.[10]

In Albany Eckert was viewed as a steadfast conservative often in conflict with the state’s liberal Republican establishment – but yet an unusually effective legislator.[11] Among his legislative achievements: he was the prime sponsor of major reforms of the state’s laws dealing with local government; prime sponsor of many election law reforms; prime sponsor of its landmark Fresh Water Wetlands law and prime sponsor of the legislation that rescued the state’s conservation fund from fiscal disaster and placed it on sound financial footing.[12]

To try to stem the growth of state government, Eckert introduced a state constitutional amendment that restricted the rate of increasing government spending to an inflation and population based formula similar to ideas that had been put forth in California by Governor Ronald Reagan. Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Freeman personally worked with Eckert on the legislative language and publicly endorsed his measure.[13] The state legislature never took it up even though, following the state and New York City financial crises, Eckert’s proposal was eventually endorsed by Democratic Governor Hugh L. Carey.

The legislative accomplishment for which Eckert is best remembered was his success in obtaining the greatest ever check against runaway state government spending in passing a public pension reform law for which he had crusaded from his first day in office. During a week in June 1976 in which the legislature was in recess Eckert barnstormed the state campaigning for his bill which was publicly supported by only one other state legislator and opposed by the Democratic governor and both the Democratic and Republican leadership of both houses of the legislature. It was also bitterly opposed by every public employee union in the state. He ignited such an outpouring of public support that days later his bill passed the Senate by a vote of 45-9 and the Assembly by a vote of 119-26 and was signed into law by the Governor.[14] The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and every other major newspaper in the state hailed Eckert’s remarkable accomplishment, one calling it “a miracle”[15] and all saying he had accomplished it “single-handedly.”[16] A state commission estimated that the law would save New York State taxpayers $2–3 billion in the first ten years and triple that in the second decade, but with Eckert gone future legislatures watered down some of the reforms.

Diplomat and Congressman[edit]

Eckert resigned as state senator when President Ronald Reagan appointed him US Ambassador to Fiji & other South Pacific Island countries. The two had become friends years earlier when Eckert was the only New York State Republican officeholder of any stature to endorse Reagan when he challenged President Gerald Ford for the 1976 Republican presidential nomination.[17] Despite a private appeal from Ford in a White House one-on-one meeting, Eckert told Ford he found Ford’s approach to dealing with Soviet communism weak and dangerous. He told Ford that he was totally in accord with Reagan about the need to challenge the Soviets more forcefully and that he would be a Reagan delegate at the 1976 Republican National Convention, where he played an active role personally with Reagan.[18] He endorsed Reagan for the 1980 nomination in October, 1978, while introducing Reagan at a luncheon honoring Eckert held in Rochester and was a Reagan delegate in 1980, campaigning with Reagan and personally writing Reagan’s newspaper ads for the New York primary.[19]

His performance as US Ambassador brought him wide acclaim. At the time of his arrival Fiji, following New Zealand’s lead, was banning visits by any US Navy ships that did not swear absence of anything nuclear when firm US policy was to neither confirm nor deny. At the time of his resignation to return home to Rochester to seek election to Congress US Navy visits were warmly invited and welcomed while Soviet Union ship visits were banned. The Navy, the Reagan Administration Defense Department and Fiji’s government and media all attributed that complete turnaround to Eckert’s personal diplomacy.[20] The Fiji Sun wrote, “He has done more than any previous American Ambassador to bring our two countries closer together.”[21] The US Foreign Service bestowed its “Meritorious Honor Award” upon him, which was personally presented by Secretary of State George Schulz.

Following winning the Republican nomination and being elected to Congress, Eckert beat out all other newly elected Republican representatives and scores of more senior ones to secure a seat on the powerful Energy & Commerce Committee, which had jurisdiction over some 40% of the legislation coming before the House.[22]

Congressional Quarterly ranked Eckert as the Member of Congress most supportive of President Reagan[23] and Reader’s Digest ran a profile feature portraying him as an example of the sort of “gutsy” leader unintimidated by special interests that Washington needs.[24] In May 1966 England’s Oxford University Union, the world’s oldest and most prestigious debating society, selected Eckert to debate the British’s government Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs on how best to counter international terrorism; Eckert was criticized by newspapers in his district for arguing at Oxford that state-sponsored terrorism needed to be regarded as acts of war as opposed to mere violations of laws and dealt with by effective military force.[25] His one major break with the Reagan Administration was his vote in opposition to the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli amnesty immigration reform bill which Eckert viewed as rewarding illegal immigrants who broke US immigration law and encouraging more of the same in the future.[26] Reagan later said his signing that bill into law was a mistake.

Vice President George H.W. Bush was nearly as effusive in his praise of Eckert’s career in public office as President Reagan, characterizing him as “exemplary in every single way” and calling him “a courageous Congressman.”[27]

Following Eckert’s very narrow defeat for re-election, President Reagan appointed him US Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food & Agriculture based in Rome, Italy, which include the UN’s Food & Agricultural Organization and the World Food Program.[28] The Western European, Japan and North America block of OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries selected Eckert when it was this block’s turn to name the presiding officer for FAO’s most important conference.

Private Life and Retirement[edit]

He resigned as US Ambassador and returned from Rome to the United States and private life to accept an offer from the Government of Fiji to be a strategic advisor in its efforts to restore the country to parliamentary democracy following a military coup and to represent it in the US and internationally. Fiji’s Prime Minister publicly praised his work as “invaluable.”[29] He also did other consulting work and teamed up with a friend to develop real estate subdivisions.

In retirement, Eckert, who as a public official had always written his own speeches, newspaper columns and newsletters and occasionally authored magazine and newspaper feature articles and op-eds for publications as varied as The Wall Street Journal and Outdoor Life, continued his fondness for writing and often combined it with his enthusiasm for photography. While still in college he had sold two magazine articles, one to Writer’s Digest about lessons he had learned from his friend and writing mentor the great author/historian Bruce Catton,[30] the other for the second largest Sunday supplement magazine, Family Weekly, about the richest person in the world, Texas oil billionaire H. L. Hunt,[31] with whom he later conducted a Playboy interview.[32]

He wrote the Reader’s Digest profile about a then little known computer entrepreneur named Michael Dell[33] also authored the Digest’s iconic “Unforgettable” tribute to his friend and mentor Bruce Catton, a friendship that had developed when as a 15-year-old Eckert had called to Catton’s attention a couple minor historical errors in This Hallowed Ground while it was the number one best-selling book in the country.[34] His early age interest in, and knowledge about, history and government was such that the nuns who operated Saint Charles Borromeo elementary school had him teach eighth grade social studies to his fellow eighth graders.[35]

He combined his writing skill and well-known sense of humor to produce a political satire novel, Hank Harrison for President,[36] which received highly favorable reviews, such as Library Journal’s hailing it as “one of the best political spoofs since Leonard Wimberley’s The Mouse That Roared”[37] and newspaper reviews calling it intelligent and “hilarious.”[38] His novel received bi-partisan praise, with Republican U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole calling it “Great political satire” and Democrat New York Governor Mario Cuomo, who also wrote a jacket blurb declaring, “It’s funny!”[39]

He is also author/photographer of two coffee table books on Fiji – Fiji: Pacific Paradise[40] and Fiji: Some Enchanted Islands[41] – and one on Tonga – Tonga: The Friendly Islands.[42] A semi-professional photographer, his images have also appeared in books, magazines, advertisements, encyclopedias, postcards and travel brochures throughout the world and have won awards in competitions.

He opted to retire early to fulfill a lifelong dream of being a world traveler and has visited all seven continents, including most areas of each inhabited one; he’s also visited all 50 states. His travel feature articles, illustrated by his own photographic images and nationally-syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate, Copley News Service and Creator's Syndicate, have appeared as the lead travel feature in well over 100 of the leading newspapers in the United States and Canada. They also have appeared in travel and in-flight magazines and have been translated into several languages. He received The State of Mississippi Governor’s Award for Travel Writer of the Year.

In retirement he has also written numerous op-eds on political issues for such outlets as National Review Online, Politico, TownHall.com, The Daily Caller, American Thinker, PJ Media and Human Events.

Since leaving the political and diplomatic arena he has consistently stated he has no interest in holding any elective or appointive government position but says his only big regret from the years he did is that he was not able to obtain the comedy rights to the New York State Legislature, Congress or the State Department.

Ambassador Eckert and his wife, Karen, live in Raleigh, North Carolina. They have three grown children and four grandchildren.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, January 27, 1982
  2. ^ TV, radio and direct mail ads, Eckert for Congress, 1986
  3. ^ TV, radio and direct mail ads, Eckert for Congress, 1986
  4. ^ New York State Redbook, 1973
  5. ^ Masthead of The New Guard magazine, March 1962
  6. ^ New York State Redbook, 1973
  7. ^ Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, June 18, 1969
  8. ^ Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, November 5, 1969
  9. ^ Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, November 3, 1971
  10. ^ Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, November 8, 1972
  11. ^ Rochester City Newspaper, October 4, 1984
  12. ^ Rochester City Newspaper, October 4, 1984
  13. ^ Statement by Dr. Milton Friedman, July 12, 1979
  14. ^ Newsday, October 21, 2011
  15. ^ Syracuse Post-Standard
  16. ^ Wall Street Journal
  17. ^ Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
  18. ^ Book, Reagan’s Revolution, by Craig Shirley
  19. ^ Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, January 27, 1982
  20. ^ Statement by Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, May 24, 1984
  21. ^ Fiji Sun, April 14, 1984
  22. ^ US Congressional Handbook, 1st Session, 1985 edition
  23. ^ Congressional Quarterly, Spring 1986
  24. ^ Reader’s Digest, February, 1986
  25. ^ Rochester Times Union, May 8, 1986
  26. ^ Congressional Record, October 15, 1986
  27. ^ Rochester Times Union, April 17, 1986
  28. ^ White House news release, April 22, 1987
  29. ^ Report of the Prime Minister of Fiji, 1992
  30. ^ Writer’s Digest, November 1964
  31. ^ Family Weekly, July 12, 1964
  32. ^ Playboy, August 1966
  33. ^ Reader’s Digest, March 1994
  34. ^ Reader’s Digest, September 1991
  35. ^ Rochester Times Union, June 18, 1969
  36. ^ Vandamere Press, ISBN 978-0-918339-24-9
  37. ^ Library Journal, November 15, 1991
  38. ^ Fort Worth, Texas, Star-Telegram, January 5, 1992
  39. ^ The New Republic, October 12, 1992
  40. ^ Bison Books, 1986, ISBN 0-86124-295-5
  41. ^ Brompton Books, 1991, ISBN 0-86124-916-X
  42. ^ Burgess Books, 1993, ISBN 1-882793-00-5

External links[edit]


New York State Senate
Preceded by
Thomas F. McGowan
New York State Senate
54th District

1973–1982
Succeeded by
William M. Steinfeldt
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Barber B. Conable, Jr.
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 30th congressional district

1985–1987
Succeeded by
Louise Slaughter
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
William Bodde
United States Ambassador to Fiji
1982–1984
Succeeded by
Carl Edward Dillery
Preceded by
William Bodde
United States Ambassador to Tonga
1982–1984
Succeeded by
Carl Edward Dillery
Preceded by
William Bodde
United States Ambassador to Kiribati
1982–1984
Succeeded by
Carl Edward Dillery
Preceded by
William Bodde
United States Ambassador to Tuvalu
1982–1984
Succeeded by
Carl Edward Dillery