Marlin Fitzwater and public service: 4 decades served, 4 lessons shared with P&P students in 2013.
(Photo: Jen Connors)
by Colin Dudgeon
While Marlin Fitzwater is best known for his 10 years as Press Secretary, his decade of public relations work in the Reagan and Bush Administrations is just the highlight of a 40-year long public service career in Washington D.C. Today, he answered probing questions from 11 student-reporters at his namesake political center in Franklin Pierce University.
The first lesson, from the start of his career, was the importance of explaining things briefly. Fitzwater, just arrived in the capital, applied for a job with the newly created Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), where he was hired after he came up with a 250-word mission statement for the group in one night. As he recounted to P&P participant Hanna Lundgren, “I never had to apply to another job again because there was always someone who knew me, or had heard of me.”
The second lesson was the importance of government and business working together to fix important problems. When asked about his second favorite job after being Press Secretary, he cited his seven years in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “It was an exciting time to be there, and everyone was excited to make things better,” he said. Working at the EPA was satisfying, because after government and business both spent money on reducing the pollution coming from factories, “it was like God waved his hand and everything was clean.”
The third lesson, coming from his third decade and his work with George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, was that every president had a different leadership styles and different political ideas, even if they had served together or were in the same party. “I spent 10 percent of my day with Reagan to know 100 percent of what he was thinking, but I had to spend 80 percent of my day with Bush to know all (100 percent) of what he was thinking… even though they were both Republicans,” Fitzwater joked on the bus ride home.
Fitzwater’s final lesson was that you can’t predict the future. Asked who he thought would be the Republican pick for president in 2016, he gathered his thoughts for a minute and responded: “I would have bet millions of dollars that Hillary would have been picked by the Democrats in 2008, not Obama,” adding that he had predicted Romney to win the 2012 election. He said, “You can’t prognosticate the future in politics.” He accepted this, saying that “the President should feel like the president of all people” and that results should be accepted with grace.