By Bill Straus
I’m not crazy about very many career politicians. So it’s a bit ironic that one of the people I admired most in my life was one of them! Yep, it’s Barry Goldwater. I loved the man. Oh, I disagreed with him on many issues, but his honesty, integrity and love for Arizona won me over from the very first time we met.
I was approaching Christmas break during my freshman year at the University of Iowa in 1967 when the professor who taught a course called “The Presidency” gave us one of the most intriguing assignments I’d ever received. He wanted each of us to “interview” someone who had run for the presidency of the United States – winner or loser, living or dead.
In retrospect, I’m guessing the assignment pivoted on two things: research and imagination. I mean, after all, how many of us in that class would have had access to a living person who had run for the highest office in the land? But I did.
I had met the senator through my parents, who were friends of his. I called him to hopefully set up an interview. I figured if he turned me down, I’d just do what I thought everyone else in the class would do… make it up. I asked him for an hour, which he happily agreed to.
The Goldwaters lived in the area of 40th Street and Lincoln Drive. In a fitting gesture, the statue of Senator Goldwater that stands at the corner of Tatum Boulevard and Lincoln Drive faces what used to be his home! Nice touch.
The house itself wasn’t ostentatious. But once I walked inside, I was blown away by the memorabilia filling every room. I remember dozens and dozens of Kachina dolls and hundreds – maybe even thousands – of photographs the senator had shot himself covering the walls and tables. Photography was one of his passions, as was his ham radio operation.
He took me into his radio studio and proceeded to connect a soldier in Vietnam with his father in Columbus, Ohio. It was profoundly emotional. The senator told me he liked to do that at least once every day.
We talked for hours. He told me how he and his very close friend John Kennedy had planned to cross the country by train in the 1964 campaign, debating at stops along the way. He called it a “reincarnation” of the Lincoln-Douglas debates a century earlier. Sadly, the plan never took place.
I finally thanked him, said goodbye and went home to write my paper. I must admit, it practically wrote itself.
I got an A+ on the paper. In the margin, my professor wrote about my “vibrant imagination” and that my paper was the “best he’d ever received for this particular assignment.” He added that he “actually believed I had met with Goldwater.”
At the conclusion of the class, I approached the prof to tell him he was overestimating my imaginative skills and that I really had interviewed the senator. He looked at me, smiled and winked. To this day, that’s what he believes! And 26 years later, when I recounted the story to Senator Goldwater on the radio, he, too, winked.