John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Ray and Ralph

Posted on January 22, 2009

Ray and Ralph


            99.9 percent of history’s greatest leaders share one trait. 


            They are all dead.


            We are all going to go sometime.  The trick is to go well.


            The built-in tension of life is to how to achieve all of your dreams while leaving behind people who love and respect you.


            American society is built around the concept that we all need to do it all before we die.


            As a result, we have become a narcissistic society, a group of people who struggle to get to the top, to win at any costs, to step on anybody to get our way, to lead self-indulgent, self-gratifying and self-glorifying lives.


            But as the cliché says, you can’t take it with you.  And all the self-glory in the world doesn’t matter when you are dead.


            I lost two friends over the last couple of weeks, one cut down in the prime of his life by liver cancer, the other who died at the end of a good, long life, but who went quicker than any of us could ever predict from lymphoma.


            Ray Fitzgerald, a former legislative magician for Congressman John Shimkus, was simply one of the nicest guys around.  He left Capitol Hill several years ago to move back to Illinois so that he could spend more time with his kids and his family.  He was young when he got cancer, and he fought like to dickens to beat it.


            Many of us on the Hill were kept informed of his progress through daily emails.  They were heartbreaking to read, but they were also inspirational.  His wife Kristen would always cite scripture, and it was clear that their faith was strong.


            Ray didn’t have the chance to live a long life, but he lived a full life.  And while he will be missed, he will never be forgotten.


            I met Ralph Vinovich when I worked for Bob Michel.  Ralph had once worked for the famous Everett Dirksen before he became Michel’s chief of staff.  He was the kind of straight-up guy who would always serve as a role model for me.  Cut the crap, tell the truth, be true to yourself.  That was Ralph’s example.


            Ralph’s son Paul is one of my best friends, and he shares a lot of his dad’s traits.  A couple of months ago, at Paul’s 40th birthday, Ralph told several of us that when Paul was born, he never thought he would make it to see his son’s fourth decade.  Well, he did make it, and he was fit enough, at age 80, to beat me in a round of golf during that week.


            He left us all too quickly, but he had a good life and he was a great inspiration.


            Both Ralph and Ray learned the essential lessons of life. Good friends are more important than great riches.  A loving family is more important than great fame.   Honesty, integrity and honor are the best ingredients for success. 


            And, at the end, it not what you got that makes you great.  It is who you are.


            Both Ralph and Ray were great Americans, and they will be missed by their legions of family, friends, admirers and colleagues.

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