Without Words: A Year of Sadness and Joy
It has been heartening to hear from so many readers of this blog. Many have asked when I will be writing more commentary. I have told them this:
There are some periods in life when words cannot be found to describe the feelings and the thoughts that come to you. The last nine months have been that kind of a time for me.
On December 21, 2013, my father John S.D. Eisenhower died after 91 extraordinary years. Just weeks before his death, he finished his fourteenth book, American General: The Life and Times of William Tecumseh Sherman. On realizing that he would not be able to see the book through the editorial and production phase, he asked me – just days before his passing – if I would “complete” it. I was honored to step in and American General has now been published by NAL Caliber, a division of the Penguin Group. In the book’s foreword, I wrote that John Eisenhower had an “extraordinary ability to connect the intellectual dots across centuries of history and articulate them as simple principles, often associating them with the events of the day.” For me, this rare gift was inspiring.
During this same time, my mother, Barbara Thompson Eisenhower Foltz, struggled with rapidly declining health. Much to our sorrow, our brave and eternally optimistic mother died recently on September 19. As the daughter-in-law of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, she was a hostess, a goodwill ambassador, and the mother of four inherently rambunctious (if well-trained) children. I am still amazed at how she managed, with virtually no help, to be a loving, unharried mother and a glamorous public figure. She set the gold standard.
There was an additional passing that also touched my siblings and me. On September 14, only five days before our mother’s passing, Delores Moaney, our beloved housekeeper of 65 years, died at the remarkable age of 98. She, and Sgt. John Moaney who served as General Ike’s valet during the war, was with my grandparents from 1946 into their last years. Not long after, Delores came to live with me for a decade, helping me raise my three children as I juggled domestic life with a demanding full-time job. She remained an integral part of our family until the end of her life, forging all the while a continuing friendship between her grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and ours.
How ironic, in a sense, that these three souls left us at the same time. They had been tireless servants of the public good during some of the most dangerous years of global history. They had lived a lot, experienced unforgettable things, and led productive lives. As the time drew near each, in his or her way, was ready to go. Still, we found it difficult to let them leave.
In this we were not alone. As we mourn the loss of our loved ones, all of us feel the growing absence of their generation every day. Our elders are leaving us when so many of the values they championed—modesty, humility, and selflessness– seem to have disappeared from the scene.
As John Eisenhower would have put it: the challenge is to find a way to meld the best traditions of the past with today’s world of change and transformation. And, there are reasons for hope. Common decency and service to others have not gone away. They live in parallel with the false heroes of a noisy, attention seeking and superficial culture. It is up to us to look for the exemplars of the world in which we want to live.
The story of the last nine months has not only been sadness. The circle of life seemed complete when, on August 8, my newest grandchild was born. In holding her, it has been impossible not to think about my parents—or about the future and what might transpire in her lifetime. It has also been sobering to think that she will be looking to me for guidance, perspective, and an anchoring with the past. I feel this responsibility, too, with other members of the rising generations, especially as I begin another Strategy & Leadership (SALTT) seminar for undergraduate students at Gettysburg College.
And so it is time to start my commentary again. I hope to share my thoughts on subjects that are central to our future, especially matters related to strategy and leadership. These discussions are at the heart of what will influence the country our young people inherit, just as they will determine our country’s place in the world.
Still, I will write my regular offerings with pause and humility. I know my wiser counselors–those who knew me best– have gone. But they will always be a part of who I am and how I think. How this comes together, however, will be for the first time – mine alone.