Fred Mathews: mentor to all

Published 11:50 am Monday, March 27, 2017

Like thousands of other citizens of southwestern Michigan, I like to think that I knew the late Dr. Fred Mathews well.

He was that kind of guy.  He knew everyone and eveyone knew him, and most liked what they saw.

I first met Fred Mathews in January 1976, when I began working for David Stockman, a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives.  Fred was one of our finance chairmen, and, because I was assigned to run David’s primary  campaign in Cass and Berrien Counties, I began a professional relationship that lasted for more than 40 years.

He became my mentor, and I am only one of many.

Because of Fred’s ability as a  fundraiser, I learned much from him about how to deal with people and make sure they received value for their financial support.

I would not be the person I am today without Fred’s influence, but everybody thinks that about Fred.

Fred liked to remind people that he got his start in politics as a Democrat who worked hard for John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1960.  He maintained a friendship with President Kennedy until the president’s untimely death in 1963.

He became a Republican only after meeting David Stockman in 1975, who was 28 at the time.  He was attracted to David’s intelligence and personality, as well as David’s sound reasoning.

David and I would meet with Fred on a weekly basis, and I remember well sitting there in Fred’s office watching these two intellectuals discuss the events of the day and the strategy David needed to beat a long-time incumbent Republican congressman in the future primary.

The incumbent Congressman announced his retirement the day that David Stockman announced his candidacy on Feb.  3, 1976, in large part due to Fred Mathews leadership in the Stockman for Congress Committee.

Thanks to Fred Mathews, I got to know many of his friends, including Dale Lyons, Foster Dougherty, Al and Jan Kairis, Dave Bruegel, Earl Marhanka, Phil Beardslee, Herb Phillipson, and the rest of the Who’s Who of Cass County.

Fred also taught me how to become a tactful and polite name dropper, a trait I guess I still carry.

But like any great leader, it was his brilliant and elegant wife Thelda who worked behind the scenes to make sure that things ran smoothly.  She is still one of my favorite people and I know she will miss Fred greatly.

What a powerful and influential team they were.

A native of Niles, Jack Strayer moved back home in 2009 after living and working in Washington DC since 1976. Strayer has served as a congressional staffer, state legislative press secretary, federal registered lobbyist and Vice President of the National Center for Policy Analysis. He is a nationally recognized expert on federal health policy reform and led the fight for the enactment of Health Savings Accounts.