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The most important legacy of Joe Coors

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted March 24, 2003

This is the sort of story that belongs in a novel. Forgive me for its length but I thought you ought to know, as Paul Harvey might say, "the rest of the story."

Back in 1968, Jim Lucier, Sr. was a young aide to Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC). Victor Fediay, who has since died, was a researcher at the Library of Congress. I was an aide to Senator Gordon Allott (R-CO). We visited frequently about what was going on in the world. Most of it wasn't good. Conservatives were being killed politically and the left was constantly advancing. After some time, Lucier and Fediay let me in on their plans. We had watched how the left operated and in those days, conservatives weren't even in the ballgame. What was needed, Lucier and Fediay told me, was an outside operation that could provide timely information to Members of Congress from a principled perspective. Such an organization could supply witnesses for hearings and experts to privately brief senators and congressmen. They told me that when they were able to put this together they wanted me to join them in the endeavor. They said they had been making presentations to businessmen about the need for such an operation and so I joined in on that effort as well. A couple of years went by with lots of presentations but no success.

But the Lord works in mysterious ways. Senator Allott had a long-time employee by the name of Barbara Hughes. She handled the mail and the filing for the office. Well, Barbara was sick one day so an intern handled the mail. She had a chart on the wall for such times that told the substitute where to direct the mail. All media letters were to go to Weyrich, the chart said. The young man opened a letter that began "Dear Senator Allott. You may remember me. I was news Director at KBTR in Denver...." The young man saw the call letters and sent the letter to me. The letter went on to say "I have been hired by Joe Coors to help him determine where he should put his money so it can further the conservative cause." My hands began to tremble. Had Barbara Hughes been well, I most likely would never have seen that letter, which was signed by Jack Wilson. I called Jack and told him he needed to come back to Washington as we had a story to tell him. He came a couple of weeks later. And we explained to him how the left operated and how an outside operation could counter that. He got very excited and said he would get Joe back to hear the story. Jack told me to get senators and congressmen to support the idea.

We put together a program that included Sen. Thurmond, arranged by Lucier, Sen. Cliff Hansen (R-WY), arranged by me, Rep. Ed Foreman (R-NM), brought in by Fediay, and my hometown congressman, Henry Schadeberg (R-WI). In addition, they met with Walter Mote, Administrative Assistant to Vice President Spiro Agnew. They all said the same thing. We need an outside organization to counter the left and these fellows are the right people to make it happen.

Joseph Coors at Founders Hall at the Heritage Foundation
Joseph Coors at Founders Hall at the Heritage Foundation

In addition we took Coors to the White House, where Lyn Nofziger was serving as Ronald Reagan's man in the Nixon Administration. Again, Lyn endorsed the idea and us. Out of the blue, Coors asked about the American Enterprise Institute. Unbeknown to us, Bill Baroody, Sr. had been courting Joe and had arranged for a private lunch at the Pentagon where Secretary of Defense Mel Laird had tried to sell Coors on AEI. Nofziger said, in answer to Joe's question: "AEI? AEI? I'll tell you about AEI." He got up from his desk and walked over to his library. He pulled a study off the shelf and literally blew a cloud of dust off of it. "Their stuff is good for libraries. But it is not timely and nobody around here uses any of it."

Joe told me later that it was at that moment that he decided to go with us. And sure enough, a few weeks after our meeting, Jack phoned to say that Joe was willing to take a chance on us. "But he wants to see your budget and organizational plan. He wants to be sure you have it all together."

It so happened that Fritz Rench was in town that day. Fritz had been my political mentor. A businessman from my hometown, he and I had worked together on some political projects beginning in 1960. I told him about Joe's request, and he cancelled his plans. For the next three days, Fritz pulled out of us what it was we wanted to do and what it would cost. He got on the phone and found out what rent on Capitol Hill cost, how much it cost to buy furniture, the cost of multiple telephone lines, etc.

He put together a prospectus that Coors told me reassured him that we really knew what we were doing. If he only knew how and when it was put together.

We didn't know about foundations and how they operated. So the initial operation was a subsidiary of the Coors Corporation. It was called The Analysis and Research Association. As things progressed, Coors confided in me that he was dissatisfied with Victor Fediay. He wanted a new organization. He urged me to put that together. By this time we had learned about tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations. That is where Ed Feulner came into the picture. I confided to Ed, then Chief of Staff to Rep. Phil Crane (R-IL.), on a trip to Taiwan about the situation and urged him to consider joining the new entity.

That new entity was the Heritage Foundation. I became its first President. Feulner felt a greater urgency was to organize the Republican Study Committee in the House. But three years later, Fritz Rench (from day one until this day a Heritage trustee) and others made the case to Ed that he should become President of Heritage. He accepted the challenge.

Look at what Heritage has become.

When I felt the calling to leave Heritage, Joe Coors backed me in putting together the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress (later known as Free Congress PAC), a political action committee to aid conservative candidates, and then later on in starting the Free Congress Foundation. He continued to support us right up until December of 2002. Of course, he became a trustee of Heritage and strongly backed it for all of his days. He took a chance on some young upstart Congressional staffers and, while he gave us strong moral and financial support, he never asked for a thing in return. He was as loyal a person as I have ever encountered in my lifetime. Feulner said he doubts we will ever see the likes of Joe Coors again. He is probably right. The point is we could do what we did precisely because we knew we could count on Joe. No matter what kind of trouble we got into, or how controversial we became, he was there to give us support.

Thirty some years ago, when the conservative movement was very small, I cannot overstate the importance of that fact. Coors told Feulner last December that the Heritage Foundation was his legacy. With all due respect, his legacy is far greater than Heritage. I am proud to say that Joe's son, Jeff, has been a director of Free Congress for 19 years. He was Chairman for more than a dozen years. He is one of the finest, most principled God fearing people I have ever known. Jeff is Joe's legacy.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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