Saturday, July 29, 2017

In Memoriam, Doug Hageman

Doug Hageman died on July 28, within spitting distance of his birthday, and those who knew him needn’t wonder how he managed that. He was an honest and good man and, as a thoughtful and active Republican in the land of Democrats, something of a wonder.

Encountering Doug for the first time – as I did many years ago, at a net-working meeting held in the rooms of Associated Builders of Connecticut (ABC) in Rocky Hill – was a bit like catching a glimpse of a unicorn in a dark glade. First you saw the white flashing flanks, then the flowing mane, and then, shockingly, the improbable white horn.   And you thought to yourself – it CAN”T be. But it is.

For most of his political career, Doug worked happily behind the scenes helping others help themselves. His vision of a Republican Party did not include political fratricide. And for as many years as he served his party as a member of the Central Committee, he pulled manfully at the oars.  His special mission was to bring African Americans into his party, and he did so with great energy and dispatch. On matters of principle, Doug was, like Henry David Thoreau, a vigorous party of one.

Doug’s personal history reaches back to the Mayflower and the founding of Plymouth Colony. If you had given him a few minutes, he would happily explain to you why the separatists of Plymouth Colony were larval conservative Republicans.  At the very least, he would insist, the Plymouth Colony had decisively rejected socialism in favor of a sort of Reaganite conservativism.

Plymouth Plantation, you see, was first founded as a commune in which all property rights were held in common. Food and supplies were distributed based on need according to Marxian prescriptions: from each according to his means, to each according to his needs. All this changed after the 1620 famine. Starvation staring them in the face, leaders in the colony decided to abandon socialism in favor of capitalism: every family in Plymouth was assigned a private piece of property the fruits of which they could keep for themselves. Starvation was sent packing with its pants on fire, and prosperity reigned in Plymouth.

Doug lavished praise on a piece I wrote in Connecticut Commentary on the occasion of The 150th Anniversary Of The Raid On Harper’s Ferry in which I had mentioned Thoreau: “Henry David Thoreau, who said of Brown that he would leave a Greek accent falling the wrong way but would right a fallen man – knew Brown was not mad, as did all the notables who assembled in Massachusetts businessman George Stern’s home in Medford to celebrate President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.”

Doug thought John Brown, born in Torrington, had played a significant and unappreciated role in the abolition of slavery, as indeed he had. I was surprised to find that Doug had read both “A Plea For Captain John Brown”  and “Slavery in Massachusetts” by Thoreau.  In his plea for Brown, Thoreau unfurls the following line: “There is hardly a house but is divided against itself, for our foe is the all but universal woodenness of both head and heart, the want of vitality in man, which is the effect of our vice; and hence are begotten fear, superstition, bigotry, persecution, and slavery of all kinds.” Doug, who never lacked vitality or virtue, rather suspected that Lincoln, the author of “The House Divided” speech had reproduced Thoreau in the often quoted line: “I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.”

Doug knew his history and, thankfully, did not keep it to himself but shared it liberally with all he encountered. He was forever bringing new, young blood into Republican ranks. Everyone he touched, not least of all myself, will miss his wise counsel, but most of all his hunger for justice and liberty. Thoreau perhaps best captured Doug’s character: “The fate of the country does not depend on how you vote at the polls — the worst man is as strong as the best at that game; it does not depend on what kind of paper you drop into the ballot-box once a year, but on what kind of man you drop from your chamber into the street every morning.”

Doug’s friends and family are all inconsolable; he was taken from us too soon. Let them remember the enduring words of Pascal: “In the end, they throw a little dirt on you, and everyone walks away. But there is one who does not walk away.” That One is the God of justice and mercy.      


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