Archive for July, 2011

Wild Bill Donovan

Wild Bill Donovan isn’t a character out of the wild, wild west. He’s a real life spymaster. He was a decorated WWI veteran and the only American to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal with two oak-leaf clusters, and two Purple Hearts. During World War II, William J. Donovan headed the newly created Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Under Donovan’s leadership, OSS became the first modern American intelligence agency and model for the future Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

While Donovan was leading wartime intelligence operations overseas, he also served as a courier between Millicent Fenwick and her estranged husband, Hugh Fenwick, who like, Donovan was based in Europe. It was through him that Millicent sent Hugh a letter asking for a divorce, “I am finally writing the letter I know you have been expecting for some time. After a great deal of thought … I have come to the conclusion that we had better get a divorce … Will you ask your lawyer here to get in touch with Colonel William J. Donovan, whom I have consulted in this matter. This has not been an easy decision to make. Do let me hear from you as soon as you can. Painful things are better over quickly.”

Donovan, like Hugh Fenwick, was also a ladies man. And his dalliances are included in a new book, Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage. This week author Doug Waller, spoke at the Cosmos Club, and was asked about Donovan’s marriage. Donovan’s wife, Ruth, treated “marriage like a business, you don’t break a contract,” said Waller.

Millicent was not willing to do that and went against the convention of the day. She divorced. In her time of need she turned to Wild Bill. Fenwick wasn’t his only divorce client. While running a wartime espionage operation, Donovan managed to find time to represent several high society women in their divorces including Helen Astor who divorced Vincent Astor. Donovan “always charm[ed] the aggrieved wife with his empathy,” said Waller. Until this week, I didn’t realize Millicent Fenwick was one of several divorce clients that Donovan represented.  Who knew he had a niche business on the side. One can hardly imagine Petraeus negotiating divorces during a time of war.


Louisiana, the Gubernatorial Election, and Fenwick

It’s been nearly 30 years since Millicent Fenwick (R-NJ) served in the House of Representatives.  Her time in that distinguished body was relatively short, just eight years (1975-1983). Yet she is still the gold standard. In that short period of time she became a voice for ethics and integrity so much so that Walter Cronkite dubbed her the “Conscience of Congress.”

Fenwick did not hold any leadership positions, but what she did have was a bully pulpit and she practiced what she preached. Frustrated with the exorbitant amount of money being spent on election campaigns Fenwick tried to cap spending with her opponents (not always successfully), and she flatly refused all PAC money based on principle. She did not want to feel compromised by accepting any donations from special interest groups.

Today Fenwick’s voice can still be heard and not just in her home state of New Jersey. In Louisiana, Republican Governor Bobby Jindal is gearing up for his reelection campaign. Right now his only challenger this November is Democrat Tara Hollis, a school teacher. A recent donation from  “Friends of Bobby Jindal” to Hollis’s school is sparking all sorts of speculation. And, in the process, recalling one of this nation’s most principled politicians, Millicent Fenwick.

To read the op-ed paying homage to Millicent Fenwick while questioning the Jindal donation, “Jindal, Hollis, and conspiracy theories” click here:

Happy Independence Day

In January of 1975, Millicent Fenwick arrived in Washington, DC, as a representative of the people. Awed by the view of the Capitol and the responsibility she was given by voters on election day, she took a moment to pause and reflect. Before her was a temple of democracy, and she was now a member of one of its legislative bodies. At 64-years-old, she was the oldest member of the freshman class and one of just 18 women in Congress.


“I, Millicent Fenwick, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

Those were more than just words to her. Fenwick’s ancestors date to pre-revolutionary times. Her great-great grandfather, John Stevens, was known as the ‘Treasurer on Horseback” during the Revolutionary War. And it was his father, also John Stevens, who as a member of the Continental Congress had the honor of ratifying the U.S. Constitution on behalf of New Jersey, becoming the third state to do so.

Of course, without the Declaration of Independence none of this would have been possible. Today we remember those who had the vision of creating a country where freedom rings and those who have fought to preserve that freedom for 235 years.

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

To read a full text of the Declaration of Independence visit the National Archives:

Happy 235th Birthday America!