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Without Words: A Year of Sadness and Joy

October 22, 2014

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.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower and family, Christmas 1955. From left to right, David Eisenhower, General John S.D. Eisenhower, First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, Susan Eisenhower, President Dwight Eisenhower, Barbara Thompson Eisenhower Foltz, and Anne Eisenhower (Mary Jean, the youngest sibling, is not pictured)

The Eisenhower family, Christmas 1955. From left to right, David Eisenhower,  John S.D. Eisenhower (later Brig. General and Ambassador), First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, President Dwight Eisenhower, Susan Eisenhower, Barbara Thompson Eisenhower (Foltz), and Anne Eisenhower (Mary Jean, the youngest sibling, is not pictured)

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Lou Mayo permalink
    October 22, 2014 12:02 pm

    Susan,

    What beautiful words and what grand affirmation, love, and testimony you bring to honor these amazing people in your life. Wishing you much peace, resolution, and happiness as you move forward, changing the world, one commentary, one act of love, insight, and patriotism at a time. So glad to see you back in the saddle!

  2. Paul J. Hansen permalink
    October 22, 2014 12:03 pm

    Susan- not a dry eye in the house! What a loving goodbye to your mother, father and long time family members you shared with us today! We will miss them all too from your future reflections, just as we older baby boomers are taking their place in the world be our part big or small! Just as we share your loss of the guidance of that generation, we share the joy of our grands coming into this world as we strive to help show them the way. So nice to have you back! Paul Hansen -Park Ridge, illinois

  3. Karen Jorde permalink
    October 22, 2014 12:27 pm

    My condolences on your loss at the passing of your parents and dearly loved friend. Having walked through the season and valley of time when our parents take the final steps of handing the care of “their world” over to us, I know although we mourn their passing, there is also a blessing that comes from their trust and confidence in us to carry on in their place. With kindest regards–

  4. Anne W. Semmes permalink
    October 22, 2014 1:10 pm

    A beautifully written message for all of us who feel a kinship to know of your extraordinary nine months.

  5. Carese Parker permalink
    October 22, 2014 1:17 pm

    Susan, We, too, were very saddened by your Father’s passing. It was my privilege in the mid- eighties to meet your Dad when he came to Tennessee to do research for his work on Gideon Pillow. He spent several days with us at the James K. Polk Papers at Vanderbilt University. Later, when the Pillow volume was released, he came to Columbia, TN, to speak and do an autographing of the book. My husband and I enjoyed hosting and visiting with him. We were able to take him to Pillow Place, the home of the General, which is still in the family. He enjoyed afternoon tea with Mrs. Jewell, the Pillow descendent. Since that time, we exchanged cards and notes many Christmases. Sadly, last year’s note was a lovely one from Joann, after his passing. He truly was a modest gentleman, from whom I learned a great deal. As I continue to read your blog, I see a great deal of him in you. My best to you. Blessings,

  6. October 22, 2014 1:24 pm

    So very sorry Susan…
    Life has a way of pausing us in just the right moments, prodding us with gentle reminders of our path. These are simply the reflections of who we are and where we’ve come from.
    I lost my Father 5 years ago..and then my sweet Grandmother ( 94 years old)…
    My Grandmother was the most precious Soul I have ever met. That generation of wisdom, knowledge, LOVE and innocence, is practically gone and irreplaceable.

    Thank You for this very personal reflection and sharing.
    We have missed your wonderful perspectives.
    You matter to so many as such a well grounded voice for TRUTH…

    Wishing You and Yours Peace as you progress through the losses.
    Sending heartfelt condolences.

  7. Steven Raab permalink
    October 22, 2014 1:54 pm

    Susan, both Nathan and I send our condolences. I want to say additionally that the heart of your essay – the passing of that generation – struck a real chord. I have been increasingly aware of late that the cast of characters in our lives has changed completely from the time of our youths until now. And that the qualities of that passed generation that were so endearing and so wonderful are endangered species today. You expressed those thoughts so meaningfully.

  8. Colleen M. Driscoll, Ph.D permalink
    October 22, 2014 2:18 pm

    Susan: I am sorry that you have endured so much loss in such a short time. As an admirer of your family and what they have given the country, I feel your loss and I have felt my own.

    I do hope that you find solace in your remembrances and in your children and grandchildren, as I have. I wish you peace and serenity and look forward to your future commentaries.

  9. Sally White permalink
    October 22, 2014 2:25 pm

    Thank you Susan for sharing your very personal experience. As I read your words, “In this we were not alone,” I reflect on our friendship and your kindness over the past two years. I want to thank you for your wise words and council as I contemplated how I could possibly be happy again, without the love of my life. I too feel the growing absence of my family every day while at the same time see the many gifts that life has to offer. Warmly, Sally

  10. Alexandrine Godleski permalink
    October 22, 2014 6:39 pm

    There is not much I can add to the comments above- except my heartfelt condolences. I have missed your lovely writing.

  11. October 22, 2014 10:33 pm

    Susan–what an extraordinary tribute to your amazing family. These intimate and wise insights are a gift to your many friends and colleagues. It is so true that today’s cultural icons are no longer defined by “modesty, humility, and selflessness.” All the same, some of us continue to try and live according to these out-dated (even “counter-cultural”), but enduring, human values. We wouldn’t have it any other way. And your beautiful family tribute helps reaffirm and support this way of life.

  12. Rick Jones permalink
    October 23, 2014 7:45 pm

    Susan, absolutely thrilled (for all of us) to appreciate you writing again with what was I felt to be the most deeply impassioned piece of yours I can remember, & justifiably so . Your incitefull honesty of “Mine Alone” reminded me of WWhitman quote about “Two greatest days of your life is day you are born, & the day you realize why”. You’ve clearly answered your calling in a most powerful way. Your reflections on past 10 mos. & the B&W family photo transported me to a kindler,gentler,& far safer time in the world & “Our town USA”(1966-67) when I delighted in walking the fairways, essentially risk free, w/Gen Ike & teaching David & Anne to swim at Gettysburg CC. without much in the way of SS intervention or intensity!! As a very proud & engaged alumnus(1968), Susan I sincerely thank you all your support & involvement in GbgCollege Eisenhower Institute and other college programs(SALTT), for prompting my all too brief interlude w/sanity, & for reminding yourself that so many of us can still learn so very much from you!

  13. December 6, 2014 5:02 pm

    Dear Susan: Alas, a bit late in the game in writing to you but know your friend here thinks of you more often than you might imagine. I have been on a similar trajectory in the last 13 months with different kinds of loss, but yet the same lingering sentiments. Your mother – that is a loss to waves and waves of people beyond those who knew and loved her the most intimately. I will never forget her warmth and trust and generosity. The most poignant observation is that you note the influence of all three on how you “think.” Too often I fear the world is unconscious of the forthright intention of thought – how it leads to forming feelings and moves one to action. But first thought must come and it can be trained with gentle but persistent self-discipline to help us move towards achieving our individual missions. Your parents and Delores will always remain alive because of how they guided your thinking and through those who’s thinking process you are already influencing.

  14. July 25, 2016 4:08 pm

    After due consideration of the upcoming national election, I find that Hillary Clinton is nearer to being an Eisenhower Republican. Therefore, I have decided to vote for her instead of Mr. Trump. I find that Don is beginning to trouble me. I like the Platform of the Republican Party in 1956 and consider myself to be a Moderate Independent. I no longer believe that Mr. Trump has the ability to govern this country. I know from past experience that the Clintons do.

    Charles Edward Miller, Jr., BA, Old Dominion University; MAR, Liberty University Baptist Seminary
    Retired Officer, Bank of America

  15. July 25, 2016 4:13 pm

    Also, I understand your sadness. My wife, Nancy, only have each other now; however, I know that my parents are now in heaven (II Corinthians 5:1). May God bless you, Ms. Eisenhower.

  16. October 11, 2016 3:52 pm

    I worry about the future of the Republican Party. Gov. Pence would have made a good candidate for president; therefore, I wish he had received the nomination of the party of Lincoln, Roosevelt, Landon, and Eisenhower. That is why Senator John Warner and Governor Linwood Holton, who are good moderate Republicans in the tradition of Alf Landon, are supporting Mrs. Clinton. I do hope that Hillary will win. I have split my vote: for president I have voted for Clinton and for Congress I have supported the GOP.

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