Tribute to Jon Rowe

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I met Jon Rowe in the mid 1970’s when he was working in Washington, DC for Ralph Nader and I knew immediately there was something very special about him.

We struck up a friendship that lasted nearly 40 years.

When I ran for Congress in 1980, Jon came to North Dakota to campaign for me and he travelled with me throughout the state.  When I won the election Jon joined my staff in Congress for a time.  But he was itchy to do other things as well and he moved on to write and think about other challenges.

Later, when I won election to the U.S. Senate I coaxed Jon to come to work with me again in my Senate office.  He did that for a while and then he was off again to work on his other passions.

He was one of the brightest, most creative persons I have ever met.  Others have said it, but it bears repeating that those of us who were Jon’s friends never came away from a visit with Jon without learning something unusual, interesting or unique.  He was such a wonderful writer and thinker.

The body of work he has left us with is enough to nourish us for a long, long time.  It is full of history, poetry and the gift of understanding that while most others are searching in a traditional way to solve a problem, Jon was finding a solution by a different path.

Some years ago Jon became convinced that the way we measure economic growth in our country had very little relationship to what we would measure if we truly wanted to know whether we were creating better lives for ourselves.

Jon suggested I hold a Senate hearing on that issue. I did. And Jon was right!  It was clear from that hearing, our measurements of economic progress in the U.S. had little to do with whether we are improving the way we live.  Jon was fond of saying “under our system we measure heart attacks and car accidents as economic progress because both will result in repair services that will contribute to the GDP”.

While Jon never seemed to change or age, one thing did happen in his life in recent years that changed his life in a remarkable way.  He got married, had a child and constantly talked about the wonder of his personal happiness.  And it showed on his face when he talked about Mary Jean and Josh.

In addition to his personal happiness in recent years, he deeply enjoyed the work he was doing in California at a small think tank working on a project about community and the commons.

Our last contact was the week before he died when he emailed me asking me to be a guest the next week on a talk radio program that he hosted.  I was scheduled to be on the program Tuesday night.  But on Sunday I received the shocking news that Jon had died.

I know that his many friends shared with me the grief of that moment knowing that all of us had lost someone special in our lives.

But, even in our sadness, those of us whose lives intersected with the life of Jon Rowe feel blessed to have known him.   The memory of him and his commitment to making the world a better place will always inspire us.

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