Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Passing Of A Man Of Unflinching Courage

TigerBlog was saddened to learn of the death yesterday of John Doar, Class of 1944.

It has been TigerBlog's great privilege to meet so many incredible people during his time at Princeton. He has shaken the hand of two sitting U.S. Presidents (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush) and met U.S. Senators, Congressmen and Governors. He has met business leaders and media megastars. He has met entrepreneurs and philanthropists. He has met authors, coaches, athletes, intelligence leaders, soldiers.

Of anyone he has met at Princeton, nobody has impressed him more than John Doar did.

When TB first came to Princeton, he'd never even heard of John Doar, which is unfathomable as he looks back on it, since TigerBlog was a U.S. history major at Penn and John Doar was one of the towering figures of 20th century American history, specifically the Civil Rights Movement.

TB actually joked with Mr. Doar once about that, how he'd never heard of him, how his name managed to somehow escape the many classes he'd taken at Penn that should have talked about him in depth. And Mr. Doar's response? He wondered why anyone would make a fuss about him.

Well, the answer is simple. He was a man of unflinching courage who made a direct impact on this country and who helped so, so many people who never knew what he did for them.

Doar was a Minnesotan who came to Princeton and was a basketball player here. After that he went to Cal Law School and then practiced before joining the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department. While there, he led the way in integrating the South, either through the legal process or, if necessary, staring down angry mobs who thought they were going to intimidate him or prevent him from doing what he knew was right.

When James Meredith integrated the University of Mississippi on Oct. 1, 1962, there was John Doar, next to him in the iconic picture. It took extraordinary grit to do what he did, and he was a man of extraordinary grit.

TigerBlog wrote about him often. He nominated him for the NCAA Inspiration Award, an award Doar would win. And what did he do? He wrote TigerBlog a hand-written card - in pencil, no less - thanking him for nominating him.

Here are a few times TB wrote about Doar:

The White Man In The Picture
John Doar and John Carlos
A Thursday With Mr. Doar

Finally, TigerBlog would like to let Howard Levy, Princeton Class of 1985, Princeton's career leader in field goal percentage in men's basketball, longtime assistant basketball coach here and now the head coach at Mercer County Community College, as well as a lawyer, to have the final words here today on John Doar.

So before that, TB would like to say rest in peace John Doar. And thanks for everything you did.

And now, some thoughts from Howard Levy:

I met Robert Doar ’83 when I was a freshman in 1981. Back then he was called Bobby or BD. He played JV basketball his first two years and was brought up to the varsity because of his tenacity — Coach Carril once addressed our entire team and said that “none of you can even be a  pimple on Bobby Doar’s ass.” Through Bobby and his younger brother Burke ’86, also a JV hoop player, we learned about and got to meet his father, John Doar, who passed away this week at 92.

I knew about the Neshoba County murders from a TV movie I saw as a kid, and someone in high school told me that the refrain from American Pie (“drove my Chevy to the levy. . . ’’) was about this, so as soon as I heard Mr. Doar was the guy that convicted those “good ol’ boys drinking whiskey and rye,’’ I was a Doar groupie. Then I learned that Bobby was named after Robert Kennedy and Burke was named after Burke Marshall. And he was counsel to the House Impeachment Committee going after Nixon. Wow!  I didn’t learn until later that one of his first hires there was a young attorney named Hillary Rodham. (When Mr. Doar was in Princeton in 2013 for the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the JFK Justice Department, he told me that Bill and Hillary, as Yale Law School students, invited him to give a talk, picked him up in an old car and took him back to the train afterwards.Years later President Clinton told him how meaningful and influential he was to them).

I met Mr. Doar several times at Princeton and worked at his 40th reunion in 1984. My Junior Paper was entitled “The Neshoba County Murders—Impetus for Change in Mississippi?” I can’t remember the grade, but I remember the professor’s main comment—“too much reliance on your interview with John Doar!” Actually, it was almost total reliance. The amazing thing about that was that Mr. Doar gave me many reasons that the government prevailed in that case, and he never mentioned his lawyering as a factor. One can read his closing argument, however, and the value of his lawyering is apparent.

Mr. Doar was the one “great man” that I have known. We stayed in touch over the years through various milestones in the Doar family, and I would make a point to see him when he was in Princeton, whether to give a talk or for a reunion, and I never felt that I was in the presence of a great man, just a very, very good one—humble, smart, caring and hard working.  He got to know my wife and children and was always interested in our lives much more than talking about himself. I’ve always heard that so many “great men” are not “good men” but clearly Mr. Doar was both.

The last time that I saw Mr. Doar was at his 70th reunion last spring.  I picked up Coach Carril and we met him at the hotel and had a great time catching up.  You could see that he was slowing down physically but was still as sharp as ever mentally, proud of his children and grandchildren, one of whom, Andrew is a varsity soccer player at Princeton, and hopeful for the future.

He had a great life.  I will miss him.


Anonymous said...

That would be Wisconsin, not Minnesota

Anonymous said...

In Malcolm X's autobiography, he volunteers a few laudatory words about John Doar. Rather than misquote them (from my failing memory), I will simply say that I was singularly impressed by the mention when I read it.