I offer my sincere apologies to the musical team of Learner & Loewe, who theatrically introduced the idea of taking a poor Cockney flower girl off the London streets and making her into a cultured and sophisticated woman who could easily hobnob with the upper crust of British society.
Eleanor Schlafly, who passed away on October 31st, just a few weeks shy of her 99th birthday bore no resemblance to Eliza Doolittle. She had no need of a Rex Harrison, or even a George Bernard Shaw to make her into an intelligent woman of culture and bearing. She had accomplished all that all by herself.
Her obituary in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reads like a travelogue and the resume of an energetic woman who did not get the memo that a woman’s place was in the home. The last of four Schlafly children, Eleanor always looked up to her three older brothers but that did not stop her from being one of the first female students in her 1942 class at St. Louis University, a top Jesuit school.
Never married, Eleanor spent her entire life in service to others, including her boatload of nieces and nephews. In 1945 she joined the American Red Cross at Fort George Wright Hospital in Spokane, Washington where she provided arts, crafts, sports therapy, and counseling for war-wounded soldiers. She continued her Red Cross work after the war back in St. Louis. Her humanitarian acts of kindness and service did not emanate from the growing trend of secularism but from her devout Catholic faith, which permeated her every thought and action.
From 1950 to 1956 she lived in New York City where she discovered her true calling. She worked for a group, called the Assembly of Captive European Nations dedicated to freeing Soviet-ruled countries from the Communist rule. This cause dominated the rest of her long life.
Hungary was one of those nations, having suffered through a brutal civil war in which Russian tanks massacred at least 50,000 Hungarians. The Hungarian Revolution fast became one of the hot anomalies of the Cold War.
In 1958 Eleanor realized one of the defining moments of her life. She joined with her brother Fred, his wife Phyllis and Father Stephen Dunker to found the Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation, whose mission was to oppose Communism and to foster religious, family, social and patriotic values. She named the Foundation after Jozef Cardinal Mindszenty. His life had served as an inspiration for many Catholics around the world because of his dry martyrdom at the hands of first he Hungarian Nazis but also the Communists for nearly 30 years. Released in 1973 he died in exile two years later.
One of the vehicles they employed to accomplish their goals was a monthly newsletter, simply called The Mindszenty Report. As the Director of the Foundation, Eleanor presided over not only the Report, but also many years of organized conferences, workshops, benefit dinners and educational tours.
The Foundation also produced radio broadcasts, pamphlets and brochures, all about the Faith and its opposition to the Communist scourge of the world. It rapidly became a fountain of information and tactics about how to brunt the Communist influence in the world.
I am not sure if Eleanor realized it at the time but the battle for the Church and the faith had expanded from the traditional battlefronts because ever since Roe v. Wade, it had become very quickly a war for the culture. What she had been doing all of her life was fighting the same battles that were recorded in St. Augustine’s The City of God. Communism was definitely a product of the City of Man.
Early 20th century Catholic writer, Hilaire Belloc echoed similar Augustinian themes in an essay that Eleanor might have read just before World War II’s outbreak. In his The Unending Conflict Belloc concluded that all of world history could be described as a never-ending conflict between the Catholic Church and its enemies. It had been the Spanish Civil War, which had drawn its influence from its forbears in the French Revolution, which served as his inspiration for his essay. Both revolutions had arisen from the Fallen Eden. The Mindszenty Foundation and Eleanor were on the battle’s frontlines.
By 1969 the TMF had several thousand subscribers in 42 states. The zenith of Eleanor’s life’s work took place in 1974 when she met with the eponymous Cardinal Mindszenty during his trip to St. Louis.
John Boland was the most long-standing of Mindszenty’s features editor. His tenure lasted an unprecedented 36 years. It ended only because of his death in 1999. For the next few years a choir of religious and political luminaries kept the Report going. The list included Father George Rutler, Phyllis Schlafly, Pat Buchanan and David Horowitz. However Eleanor really wanted a writer who would be a little more permanent.
In December of 2002, I met Eleanor, I think, for the first time. I had known her more famous sister-in-law for nearly a decade. I had interviewed Phyllis on my radio show and she had reciprocated in kind. And of course there were all the political rallies and conferences we had both attended in the nineties.
While I had dabbled in free-lance writing for many years, mostly in baseball history, I had also done talk radio for several years. I also had a Ph.D in American History and because of the radio talk show experience, and my long involvement in the Archdiocesan Pro-life organizations, and St. Louis Birthright, I was well-versed in, not only politics, history and government, but also Catholic teachings.
Over a nice lunch at the Wine Bottle, a trendy restaurant across the street from her Clayton offices, Eleanor offered me the position of writing the Mindszenty Report. Since my 22-year affiliation with WGNU was winding down after the death of owner and impresario, Chuck Norman, the timing was perfect for me. So I gladly accepted.
My first article was entitled A Nation of Frogs. This 2400 word essay set the general tone and style I would employ over the next 11 years. I had sensed that, not only had times changed, but that Communism, or preferably Marxism had radically altered its tactics. What I had tried to do was to get Eleanor to broaden TMR’s approach, that is fight Communism, not as solely a world military and political enemy but more of cultural subterfuge.
Frogs rested on the ideas of Antonio Gramsci, a Sardinian Communist, who spent most of his productive days in prison, where he had become more of a cult figure. Gramsci believed Communism as an economic movement was moribund. He believed the way to undermine the West was by a long march through its culture, especially its women.
Eleanor and her board loved it. In the words of one of its members, I had hit one out of the park. Perhaps I had set the bar too high. The next few were more on the pedestrian side and after that Eleanor had some reservations about some of my ideas. I have an independent streak when it comes to writing. I often fall madly in love with an idea, some of which were not only outside the box but outside the room.
For a strong woman with a devout faith in God and her Church, her mind was very open to new ways and new ideas. This is probably true because after all her whole life had been going against the grain.
But even an open mind has its limitations. I would run several ideas by her and many of them would meet the trash can. Sometimes she would let me go with an idea, only to criticize it because, as she put I don’t see anything Catholic in this! Where is the Catholic faith in this article?
And then there was my preference of using metaphoric titles like the Frog without any further explanation. She would look at me with displeasure and say, What is this about? I have no idea what this title means? When my frustration level raises to a point, I tend to bail out. At least on two occasions, I discussed leaving Mindszenty with her.
I will never forget the calmness and the skillful way she dispelled that temporary notion from my consciousness. She did not do it with guilt, anger or flattery but with a feminine charm that immediately had soothed my petulant frustrations.
The best way for me to put it, for about three years Eleanor and I engaged in what I call a metaphoric dance. Even though she was the Boss, I wanted to lead and sometimes she did not always like where or how I was taking her and her life’s work. It took us awhile to find our rhythm. From that point on there seemed to be a smooth and rhythmic pace to what was a long slow dance. Working for her stopped being a job for me. It became a commitment.
After that she gave me virtual free range with my metaphoric titles, as long as I included an explanatory subtitle. As for my lack of Catholic substance, I always devoted at least one section of our customary eight sections, to expound on the Catholic influence in the issue. It was a formula that served us well for the rest of our mutual tenure. I think of the 132 essays I wrote for Mindszenty, only four did not see the light of publication.
But perhaps the best part of working for Eleanor was when she approved my idea for a future issue or an issue was put to bed, we would often sat back and visit. I am an inveterate story-teller and she loved hearing about all the strange and weird things that happened to me and my family. I still have a picture of her in my mind, laughing out loud after having made great efforts to stifle the laughter brewing inside her trim, stately body that testified to the athlete she had been well into her sixties.
I will always treasure our chats that were a joy to me. She was all that a true lady could be. She was totally feminine and possessed a natural charm that could melt the hearts of kings, businessmen and prelates alike. Oh how I loved that woman!
I stayed on a little more than a year after Eleanor retired when the work got too much for her. But at the end of 2013 after 11 complete years, I decided it was time to move on. It just wasn’t the same without her enchanting personality, our chats, and mutual laughter. Working with her made me a much better writer. Getting to know and enjoy her company made me a better man.