Politics

The Conservative Movement Has Lost a Hero

R.I.P., Patrick S. Korten — a good man, a wonderful colleague and a great friend from the Reagan Revolution

With great sorrow, I advise of the death on March 29, 2018, in Fairfax, Virginia, of Patrick S. Korten. He turned 70 not quite two weeks ago, on St. Patrick’s Day.

Pat was born in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and reared in the suburbs of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He went to college at the University of Wisconsin and was still a student there when we met in 1970.

Pat and a college chum, Nick Loniello, were among the founders of a conservative, independent student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin, The Badger Herald. Martin Northway and I were among the founders of a conservative, independent student newspaper at The University of Chicago known as Chicago Rap.

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The Herald crew and the rappers soon discovered each other. We shared copy, directed advertisers to each other, recommended printers and other vendors to each other, and generally cheered each other along.

Eventually we created a national network of like-minded conservative student publications, the Independent Student Newspaper Association, which grew to represent more than two dozen campus papers around the country and served as a sales agency for national advertising that appeared in the papers. We were assisted in such work by the late Eugene Methvin, a senior editor at Reader’s Digest, based in New York.

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Working with Gene Methvin, Pat and I also helped to organize a series of national conservative student conferences in the early 1970s in the face of a rising and aggressive campus leftism that presaged and rivaled the phenomenon that exists today.

Our series of student meetings, convened across the nation starting at Airlie House in Northern Virginia in 1971, was built around the theme of preserving the “open society” — long before that term, inspired by the work of the philosopher Karl Popper, was stolen and perverted by the likes of George Soros.

Among the adult faculty who participated were Allan Brownfeld and the late Alexander Bickel, the late Georgetown University professor George Carey, and the late Fritz Kraemer. Among the student organizers and participants, in addition to Pat Korten and me, were Bill Kristol, Herman Pirchner, and Larry Pratt.  In the background, cheering us on, in addition to Gene Methvin, were the late William F. Buckley, the late R. Daniel McMichael, and the late Jay Parker.

Pat soon relocated to Washington and served on Capitol Hill, including on the staffs of Congressmen Bob Bauman and Barry Goldwater, Jr., and at the American Conservative Union.  He returned to journalism as an anchorman for WTOP Radio, the CBS affiliate in Washington, where he also hosted a Sunday morning news and public affairs program. Pat had a masterful voice for radio, a superb sense of timing, and the extensive fund of knowledge — and chutzpah — to be a great newsmaker interrogator.

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Along the way he met and married Anita Norfolk of, appropriately enough, Norfolk, Virginia, the wife of 44 years whom he leaves behind. Pat and Anita had three sons, Patrick J., Brian, and Sean,  all of whom survive him.

In 1981, Pat and I were reunited as colleagues at the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) under President Ronald Reagan and Director Donald J. Devine, where I was the general counsel and Pat was, in succession, the assistant director of OPM for Public Affairs and, then, the executive assistant director of OPM for Policy and Public Affairs.

Pat mastered the details of administration of the U.S. civil service system, among them ensuring the integrity of competitive examinations, the safeguarding of civil rights and fairness in staffing, and efforts to improve the efficiency of government to the finances of federal pay systems and the provision of fringe benefits, including health insurance and retirement programs.

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Pat helped implement the Civil Service Reform Act of 1980 and helped design and deploy some of the first performance management systems and merit pay award programs aimed at streamlining and improving the civil service.

While at OPM, Pat also designed and implemented one of the first “local area networks” that involved the installation of computers for senior agency leaders and staff and the connection of them for immediate internal communications.

It’s utterly commonplace stuff today, and mostly wireless. At that time, however, it was utterly novel and awesome, yet Pat was years ahead of the rest of us in mastering it. In those early days when dinosaurs roamed the earth and cavemen were chiseling the first computers out of stone, Pat asked me in to his office one day to show me the latest thing that technology had wrought.

A computer in that era was pretty much a blank slate every time it was booted up, and program software had to be installed via floppy disk every time one turned on the machine. Similarly, there was no internal storage; instead, all of one’s data files were stored on floppy disks that one inserted during use and then carefully removed and stored in a drawer or file.

Pat helped implement the Civil Service Reform Act of 1980 and helped design and deploy some of the first performance management systems.

Pat started up this newfangled contraption as he demonstrated it to me and, as a first order of business, installed the disks that conveyed the operating instructions to the computer. A word popped up on the screen: “loading.” Pat chuckled, turned to me, and said, “Look at this. It’s only 8:30 in the morning, and my computer is bragging that it’s getting loaded. I’ll probably have to wait another 12 hours!”

Later during the Reagan administration, Pat and I again served together under Attorney General Edwin Meese III at the Department of Justice, where I was in charge of international liaison and relations with state and local prosecutors, and Pat directed public affairs.

He was at Attorney General Meese’s right hand through nearly every momentous event of those years, including accompanying him on groundbreaking visits to Rome to set up an early anti-terrorism working group with Western European and other allies and to South America to beef up efforts to combat violent drug cartels shipping deadly narcotics to the United States. Images of Ed Meese and Pat Korten wearing flak jackets as they rode in a helicopter gunship flying over the poppy fields of Colombia are not easily forgotten.

After government service, Pat did star turns handling public affairs for the Cato Institute, the Knights of Columbus (at its headquarters in Connecticut, where he had some impossibly grand chivalric title such as supreme scribe — I’m making that up — that indicated that he was in charge of the Knights’ worldwide communications), and in private public relations practice in Washington, D.C. I would be remiss if I did not note that, resplendent in his knightly sash, Pat honored Kathy and me by serving as the head usher at our wedding in Baltimore nearly a quarter of a century ago.

Pat was more than bright; he was brilliant. He was more than funny; he was witty and wise. He was more than supportive of his friends and family; he was the model of loyalty. He loved freedom; he loved America; he loved his family; he loved his church; and he loved his friends.

Those loves illuminated every step that he took in his rich and productive life, and his example continues to illuminate the way for us — who loved him and who remain behind.

Joseph A. Morris is an attorney practicing in Chicago, Illinois.

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