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Tom Watkins
Tom Watkins

Integrity and Honor Exemplified: Ron Thayer

January 19, 2018 

In politics and in life, there is no more kind, decent, gentleman of integrity and compassion than Ron Thayer. Without a doubt, money is the mother’s milk of politics. Even more so today. For decades, Ron Thayer has milked the cows for Michigan’s Democratic candidates. He has spent his political life raising money for good causes and good people. A good man.


“Saint” Ron

Jack Lessenberry, who has followed politics in Michigan for decades, grasped the nuance of Ron Thayer’s genius in one of his columns in The Metro Times saying, “Ron Thayer is an awe-inspiring legend to some of the state’s biggest political names. Name the candidate, name the cause, and if Thayer believed, and took it on, the money was certain to come rolling in, usually by the barrel.  Politics today is increasingly impossible without vast sums of money, and Ron Thayer was, and is, a fundraiser’s fundraiser.” https://www.metrotimes.com/detroit/money-money-money/Content?oid=2173879

Ron is such a shy and unassuming guy; he has shunned the limelight and may be blushing as he reads this. If he were a cussing man (which he isn’t – if he were really mad, you may hear a “darn” out of him), he may think of giving me “hell” for writing this about him.  Yet, people need to know what a great guy he is and what he has meant to good politics and good governance in Michigan. At a time of political sniping and nastiness, Ron Thayer stands out as a beacon of decency.

I got to know Ron best when I served as Deputy Campaign Manager for the first “Blanchard for Governor campaign.” At that time, Ron was, you guessed it— the great rainmaker. Later, we shared an apartment in Lansing during Blanchard’s first year in office. I came to refer to him as “Saint Ron.”

The rock for Ron is his Catholic faith and his wife, “Miss Kitty.” Kitty has provided ballast for Ron for decades. She created a solid foundation from which he could operate.

Accolades Come Rolling In

Here is what some of Michigan’s exceptional political talent have to say about this man, Ron Thayer, my friend: 

“Ron Thayer is a warm, loving person.  From the first time you meet him, you realize that he wants nothing but to help you.  And he has kept that quality all his life” said former Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelley. “That’s the way it was for me when I hired him as an administrative assistant back in the early 60s, and he remained a close friend throughout my 37 years as attorney general as he is a close friend today. Ron has a magnetic personality, and among all the many positive things I could say about him nothing describes him better than what I’ve heard from so many people over the years. Ron Thayer is a sweet guy.”

Governor James Blanchard, chimed in, “Having been a friend of Ron Thayer’s for 48 years, I can honestly say he is the closest person to being a saint that I have ever known. He is the kindest and thoughtful human being I’ve ever met, bar none.  He has time for everyone, the downtrodden and the powerful. He is always saying, ‘How can we cheer him up?’, or ‘What can we do to help her?’ Ron sees good in everyone. I’ve never heard him swear, although he’s not a self-righteous person. He’s tolerant of others but firm in his faith. A man of complete integrity, everyone trusts Ron. He is loyal to the core. Ron’s talent and hard work energize everything he touches. Modest, humble and worldly wise, Ron has blessed the lives of more people than you can imagine. Certainly mine for decades.   We were each other’s best man in our weddings. He was the best, best!”

Governor Blanchard, Ron Thayer and “FOR’s” – Friends of Ron’s

L. Brooks Patterson, the affable and capable Oakland County Executive, said Ron’s friendship goes back to the early 60’s while both worked on the U of D’s Varsity News.  Brooks recalls, “Ron was a strong Democrat and I was an equally proud Republican, then and now, in spite of our political differences, our mutual respect and friendship has never wavered. If you look up ‘Integrity’ in the dictionary, you will find a picture of Ron Thayer. I have known Ron since our days together at U of D. While we hail from different political parties, there are few if any I trust more. Kind, generous, decent and a man of principle— that is Ron Thayer”.

“When I think of Ron, two words immediately come to mind,” said Richard “Rick” Cole, who served with Ron Thayer in the administration of Governor Jim Blanchard as his press secretary and chief of staff. “Those two words are ‘ethics’ and ‘gratitude’. He’s the only political fundraiser I have met who consistently refused to accept a political contribution from a donor who even hinted that a quid pro quo may be involved,” Cole said.  ”No way’ said Ron.

“And the sincerity of his appreciation to donors and friends is only exceeded by the intensity with which his appreciation is expressed. I recall a time when he received a kind note from a donor thanking Ron for the note he had sent with the contribution receipt.  Ron responded with an expression of his gratitude for the note from the donor who in turn thanked Ron for that note,” Cole said. 

 “After the exchanges of thank you notes had gone on – back and forth — for what seemed like several months, Ron’s secretary came to me and asked that I do a gratitude intervention.  Ron finally agreed to cease and desist with the notes but settled the issue by making a personal phone call to the donor. As far as I know, the phone calls with the donor may still be going on to this day.”

 “Can I say I love the guy?” Cole asked.  “Wait a minute, I just did, and I mean it.”

Mark Hackel, Macomb County Executive gets the essence of Ron when he says, “Ron has one of the most outgoing and engaging personalities.  Whether you are meeting him for the first time or have known him for years he makes you feel like a lifelong friend.  Most people think Ron has a passion for politics. But I believe his passion is people and politics is what helps him connect to a wide variety of personalities.”

George Ward, former Chief Deputy Prosecutor for Wayne County and a friend of Ron’s since their undergraduate days at the University of Detroit concludes “Besides his love and respect for his wife Kitty and his friend Jamie Blanchard his loyalty is only topped by his dedication to his Catholic faith— and being a Titan fanatic!” He continues, “I knew if I ever were to lose Ron’s phone number, I could always find him on the second deck at Calihan Hall at a Detroit Titans basketball game.”

George concludes, “One of my fondest memories of Ron is that he introduced me to my wife, Margaret of 50 years and was a groomsman in our wedding. The University of Detroit and the State of Michigan has no more loyal supporter.”

A fellow fundraiser extraordinaire, David Katz, who met Ron in 1985 and is now Sr. VP at the DMC knows the value of Mr. Thayer.  Then-Livonia Mayor Ed McNamara asked Governor Blanchard for fund-raising help.  Blanchard assigned Ron Thayer to train Katz and many others in the magic of raising money. “Before there was Facebook, there was Ron Thayer — he connected people — his warmth helped people open up to each other —many a friendship owes its birth to Ron’s magic,” Katz says with a smile.

“Ron doesn’t just raise the money he creates relationships.” 

*Relationships are the foundation of good politics and governance. McNamara ran for Lt. Governor with Sandy Levin in 1970 and they assigned Jamie Blanchard to take care of McNamara. The rest they say is history. 

Rick Wiener, a political legend in his own right, who helped elect many a leader and helped them govern from the local to national stage says, “I’ve known Ron Thayer for about five decades. He’s always been known as a premier fundraiser, an excellent strategist, and a person of impeccable integrity – but that description has always been incomplete. Ron has always understood that people aren’t just motivated by candidates and causes, but about feeling good and having a good time. His events were always fun. His impish twitch signaled that he was ready to have fun and that others should get ready too. People have always left a Ron Thayer event wanting to do more because they felt good about themselves and the event – and not only about the candidate.”

Greg Morris, who first met Ron while working on the Levin for Governor campaign in 1970, then worked with him on Blanchard’s Campaign for Congress, Governor, and then again in this administration in various capacities (including director of personnel), is now retired and in the Washington DC area.  They remain friends to this day. 

He says, “Ron brought, and still brings, creativity combined with integrity and loyalty to all his endeavors.  His political fundraising reputation showed flair and panache back in the Roman Gribbs mayoral days … and was refined further when he helped his good friend, Jim Blanchard, run for Congress and Governor.  Both as an advisor to elected officials, and in his political efforts, Ron attracted and still attracts people because he is genuine, he does not cross any line that even suggests impropriety.  Not only that, he has a great sense of humor that has certainly helped me when times occasionally got tough!  I think that anyone who has ever worked closely with Ron knows that he is more than a colleague, he is their friend.”

Bill Liebold, President of the Liebold Group has known Ron for nearly a half century.  They worked together for Jim Blanchard in Congress, then while he was Governor for a total of 16 years, speaks glowingly of him as a person, friend, and professional. “Ron was always known as a man with a heart and the most ethical person I have known,” Liebold says.  He continued, “Ron has a great sense of humor, and loves to laugh and tease, even when the joke is on him.  His laugh is genuine, and, once he gets started, he sometimes has a hard time stopping.  Ron was the go-to person in the Blanchard administration – when Ron spoke, everyone knew it had the full backing and support of the Governor.  The loves of Ron’s life are his wife, Kitty, Jim Blanchard, University of Detroit and the Catholic Church.” He concludes, “Ron is a kingmaker, loyal husband, and friend, and dedicated to his Catholic faith.” 

Few Measure Up 

We need more honest, decent, caring persons of integrity and all around good guys in politics. For future generations, we can use Ron Thayer as the measuring stick.

Tom Watkins is a FOR (Friend of Ron’s).  He served with Ron on the Blanchard for Governor inaugural campaign and in the Governor’s office as deputy chief of staff. He can be emailed at: tdwatkins88@gmail.com, or followed on twitter at:@tdwatkins88

 

January 22, 2018 · Filed under Tom Watkins

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Linda Jennings // Jan 22, 2018 at 9:12 am

    Ron is also a teacher and mentor. Ron takes people under his wings and shows them the way to do business the right way–with humor, kindness, empathy and non-stop energy. I have been so fortunate to have worked with Ron over the years. He certainly is one of the good guys in politics!

  • 2 Tim Lennon // Jan 22, 2018 at 5:33 pm

    Ron was always a classy, humble, and professional person.

  • 3 Pat Babcock // Jan 23, 2018 at 4:29 pm

    Tom
    Your first sentence sums up Ron perfectly. He is a genuinely decent and compassionate human being. Michigan is much richer for his services in government and his professional contributions to many of our public leaders.
    Pat Babcock


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