By John Rossomando, The Philadelphia Bulletin
Published: Friday, December 19, 2008
Few people have had as great an impact on American politics as Paul M. Weyrich, 66, a Bulletin columnist who passed away at 1 a.m., Thursday morning at Fair Oaks Hospital In Fairfax, Va. after years of illness, not far from his Fairfax home.
He is survived by his wife, Joyce; daughters, Dawn Ceol and Diana Pascoe; sons, Peter, Stephen and Andrew; and numerous grandchildren.
He can best be described as having been the founder and architect of the modern conservative movement.
Mr. Weyrich suffered on a daily basis from extreme, chronic pain and declining health, which left him confined to a wheelchair in his last years. These afflictions, combined with the amputation of his legs in 2005, never stopped him from fighting for the causes he believed in.
"In spite of his unhappiness about where his country was headed and his own physical problems, he didn’t whine," said Grover Norquist, president of Americans For Tax Reform. "He worked hard."
Mr. Norquist said Mr. Weyrich’s discipline and principles serve as a testament to everyone in the conservative movement because he showed things only get done when people work hard and don’t let adversity get in their way.
Heritage Foundation President Edwin Feulner, Mr. Weyrich’s successor at The Heritage Foundation, said "moral courage was a defining trait of Paul himself."
"The moral courage was matched with physical courage he displayed in the face of physical disability in his later years," Mr. Feulner said in a statement.
In life, Mr. Weyrich attributed his strength and resolve to his faith as an Eastern Christian and to the inspiration his German-immigrant father instilled in him growing up in Racine, Wis., where he was born. He attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison, but dropped out to become a political reporter for the Milwaukee Sentinel.
His wife, Joyce, together with their children and grandchildren, were always a very important part of his life and who he was, as was Holy Transfiguration Melkite-Greek Catholic Church where he served as a deacon for many years.
"Paul was a man whose life was committed to Jesus Christ, his family and the United States of America," said Colin Hanna, president of Let Freedom Ring, a West Chester-based activist group. "He remained always and steadfastly faith-based, guiding hand on the conservative movement."
His admirers and detractors can agree about one thing, he was a giant in American politics over the past 40 years.
Mr. Weyrich served as the principle institution builder of the conservative movement, founding The Heritage Foundation, The Moral Majority, American Legislative Exchange Council and The Free Congress Foundation among others. He received his first taste of electoral politics as part of the 1964 Goldwater campaign.
Prior to Mr. Weyrich’s 1967 arrival in Washington, D.C. as a staffer in the office of U.S. Sen. Gordon Allott, R-Colo., conservatives had publications such as National Review to espouse their beliefs, but nothing to put them into practice. Mr. Weyrich, inspired by what he saw with the left-leaning Ford Foundation and Brookings Institution, set about copying those institutions with ones on the right that could put conservative policies into action.
With the help of beer magnate Joseph Coors, Mr. Weyrich founded The Heritage Foundation in 1973 and served as its first president. The following year, he established the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress, now The Free Congress Foundation.
These institutions provided what House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, called "the roadmap of Reagan’s presidency" and reshaped America’s political landscape.
"His passing is very sad because he built the structure of the conservative movement," Mr. Norquist said. "Ideas are nice, but you need structural institutions, guys in the House and Senate. It’s not a question of ideas themselves, but they have to be run through institutions."
His organizational and coalition-building skills helped serve as the impetus for the establishment of the Christian right as a political force. It was he who came up with the name Moral Majority, which he founded together with Jerry Fallwell in 1979.
Mr. Weyrich worked tirelessly to advance the cause of traditional values and the role of religion in the public square, fighting against what he, and his colleague Bill Lind, called "Cultural Marxism."
"Paul Weyrich was a heroic figure in the Christian conservative renewal of the 1980s," Prison Fellowship Ministries President Chuck Colson told The Bulletin in a statement. "No one worked more tirelessly or gave more sacrificially. He inspired many to follow in his footsteps. He will be sorely missed."
The values Weyrich fought for, Mr. Norquist said, are impossible without freedom, something he says conservatives of all stripes believe in.
"Traditional values cannot flourish without freedom," Mr. Norquist said.
Morton Blackwell, founder and president of the Leadership Institute, who was a close Weyrich friend and political associate described his contributions as "unique" and "irreplaceable."
Mr. Weyrich touched the lives of everyone he came to know and provided an inspiration to cultural conservatives who followed his example.
Catholic League President William Donohue recalls that Mr. Weyrich’s tenacity and courage during the 1980s played a key role in placing social conservatives in a place of influence in the face of opposition.
"Paul’s courage when he broke with Feulner in 1980 saw to it that social conservatives played a role and that it wasn’t exclusively foreign policy [and economics]," Mr. Donohue said. "He understood the necessity of addressing social and cultural issues.
"He was a giant of a man, and no one can replace him; he was someone I looked up to."
Although Mr. Weyrich has passed on, the institutions he helped create will continue his legacy into the future.
"Paul changed the world and created institutions that will outlive him," Mr. Norquist said.
Mr. Hanna said Mr. Weyrich’s death "leaves a heavy heart," but his life’s work will live on.
"It will provide a younger generation of conservatives a roadmap for the tough times ahead. Paul’s footprint will not be washed away by the sands of time," Mr. Hanna said.
John Rossomando can be reached at [email protected]