“Standing on the shoulders of those before us…passing on a legacy to those who will follow.”
-Reflections from Jeff on his mother and father—former vice-presidential candidate and HUD Secretary—Jack Kemp, from whom much of Jeff’s catalytic energy and vision was imparted.
My mom, Joanne, has always been genuine and warm, fascinated with people, and sport to fill our dinner table with frequent guests and much family. Simply put, she believes in and practices “the power of the personal.” This power is more essential and impactful than ever in this age of expanding information, technology and consumption.
Throughout his life, my father believed that sports were a microcosm of our society and our competitive, team-oriented way of life. The spirit of healthy competition leading to productivity requires cooperation, where both the weak and the strong succeed. In Jack Kemp’s view, people are lifted up not only by their own efforts, but by the inspiration and help they receive from those who achieve the highest.
He was also a fierce advocate for the power of ideas, and especially for what he called “The American Idea:”
The Declaration of Independence applies to every individual; everyone should have the same opportunity to rise as high as their talents and efforts can carry them; and while people move ahead, we should endeavor to leave no one behind.
Jack Kemp lived through the civil rights revolution. He walked out of restaurants, movie theaters, and hotels that would not welcome all teammates—black and white—alike. He learned and passed on to his sons and grandsons who played football the lesson that, as in the huddle, everyone is equal. A great team is comprised of players with differing gifts, committed to each other in the same cause.
Bill Bennett, my father’s close friend and Presidential Cabinet teammate, was the one who first coined the phrase “lift” to describe my father. After my father’s death, Bill summed up Dad’s legacy by saying, “Wherever Jack went, wherever he spoke, to whomever he met, Jack Kemp brought LIFT—to ideas, to people, to politics, to our nation.”
What Bill was identifying was that Jack Kemp strove to inspire and elevate others to be their best. He passed along a legacy of optimism, perseverance, leadership, empowerment and encouragement. He taught us to bring something very good out of very bad situations.