The Passing of a Giant

Posted: Sep 10, 2015 12:01 AM
SANTILLANA DEL MAR, Spain -- Here I am out in the Spanish hinterland, and John Von Kannon, one of the giants of the conservative movement, has passed on. Known to The Spectator followers as the Baron Von Kannon, he was one of my dearest friends and wisest advisers for nearly 50 years. He will be a loss for me and for the conservative movement, but it was God's call.

Today, these 48 years seem fleeting. The Baron went to Washington with what eventually numbered a dozen Indiana University graduates to advance the conservative movement. Many of those students started with me at The American Spectator there in Bloomington, Ind. None was more vital than the Baron. He hawked the magazine on campus, raised money for it and was responsible for more than a few of our greatest gags. Then he went on to raise money for the Heritage Foundation, where he raised more than a billion dollars.

Along the way, he served The Spectator, Heritage and the conservative movement as more than a fundraiser. He was a wise counselor to us all, an endless source of amused commentary on the events large and small through this past half-century, and a steadfast keeper of our conservative principles. Such a fellow is much rarer than just a fine writer or policy wonk. When the Clintons came down on the magazine, the Baron was there 24 hours a day.

One thing that will be lost in the Baron's obituaries is that he always had a book at his side. He was a voracious reader. He said to me shortly before his death that he found it no easier to read a popular novel than a serious book of history, biography or public policy. So why not read a serious book -- which he did -- and apply it to his life? Today we have some dodgy characters in the fundraising business. The Baron was different. His projects had to advance human liberty, and they were always on the up and up.

It is not often noted that the conservative movement is outspent by the American left by about four to one. Forget all the media's hysteria about the Koch brothers, Dick Scaife and our foundations. They are greatly appreciated, but their resources pale in comparison to those of the Ford Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation, to say nothing of the gulag of universities reaching across the nation, the government bureaucracies and, of course, the labor unions, plus various single-issue lobbyists who inevitably become part of the left's camorra. Show me a feminist, and I will show you a person who follows the left's line from the minimum wage to the commercializing of baby parts.

The Baron in his work evened things up a bit, always standing for the original principles of the movement, which are, of course, the principles of the Founding Fathers. He had a lot of fun doing it. He came from that part of the movement that always believed politics had an amusing side. Today, that part of the movement is losing ground to the grim fellows of the present moment. I hope in the end we win. A laugh is worth a thousand syllogisms. Ask Mencken or Twain.

The Baron fought his first battle with cancer when it rudely interrupted his preparations for The Spectator's 10th anniversary dinner in 1977. He was trying to get things together at 4 o'clock on a Tuesday afternoon just before we left for our New York dinner. I asked him immediately to see our doctor. By 7 o'clock that evening he was diagnosed with leukemia and given 10 days to live.

Father Higgins, who had recently converted him to Catholicism, was immediately notified and commandeered me to join him in an assault on the intensive care unit at the Bloomington hospital. With a speedy strike that amazed me -- to say nothing of the hospital staff -- Father Higgins entered the intensive care unit where the Baron lay and administered the last rites. Then, suavely, the priest bid adieu to the bewildered doctors and nurses. Thirty-seven years later, the Baron told me his conversion was the best decision he had made in his life.

He said that when he called me last autumn to say he again had cancer. Through the past year, he has fought it ferociously. He wanted to remain with his two children, Jack and Rachel, and his devoted wife, Cindy. His friends could not believe how he fought his cancer back in 1977. He fought with equal tenacity this time. But in the end, he bowed to the oldest idea known to man, philosophical acceptance of the inevitable. He recognized the inevitable is God.

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