Baron Von Kannon, R.I.P. - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Baron Von Kannon, R.I.P.

John Von Kannon, our founding publisher and vice president and senior counselor at the Heritage Foundation, died on September 5. A funeral mass will said at 2 p.m. tomorrow at St. Mary’s Catholic Church at 727 5th Street, NW, in Washington, D.C. R. Emmett Tyrrell’s tribute ran on Wednesday. We include below a collection of additional tributes that have come our way.

William Schulz
The Capitol Hill townhouse is not unlike hundreds — perhaps a few thousand — of others in this Washington neighborhood. Inside it is tastefully decorated. It could be the home of a member of Congress, a successful lawyer or businessman. The owner of a local bank, writer or retiree.

There are no clues behind the front door. No photos of the owner with Ronald Reagan or William F. Buckley, Margaret Thatcher or Lech Walesa, all of which exist in abundance. No hints that for more than half a century, the owner was a pivotal player in national, indeed international, affairs.

There is plenty of evidence that a loving family lived here — a high school senior, a college junior, a devoted wife and mother. And John Von Kannon, known to hundreds of friends as the Baron, the father and husband who died last week after a year-long battle with cancer.

John was a political fund-raiser. It is not an occupation whose practitioners are regarded highly for their ethical behavior. The Baron was the gold standard exception to this rule. As one who knew John from his early days helping Bob Tyrrell found and run The American Spectator at Indiana University, I knew him to be scrupulously honest. And much more.

When he died, he had raised more than $1 billion (that’s with a b) for the Heritage Foundation, for the Spectator, for the Pacific Legal Foundation, for market-oriented environmental groups.

He was about much more than money. More so than any other fund-raiser I have known, he was committed to ideas and the conservative cause. He was a voracious reader. He spoke to hundreds of groups from fledgling campus clubs to national assemblies and conventions. Outside of Stan Evans and Ralph Bennett, he may well have been the conservative movement’s funniest man.

A friend said admiringly the other day that the Baron enjoyed rare wine and craft beers. But in a pinch, and there were many, he would settle for what others would call the cheap stuff, even rotgut.

He loved life, the cause, the Catholic Church and his family.

The Baron will not be forgotten. RIP.

William Schulz was the Washington Editor of Reader’s Digest for 30 years and its Executive Editor.

Quin Hillyer
I had never even met John Von Kannon when he helped me out of a bad situation by helping me find a new job. He did it sight unseen, and even unbeknownst to me, at the recommendation of mutual friends.

It was the just the sort of thing John did: He found ways to link people with each other, professionally and financially, for the mutual benefit of both — and the benefit of the causes of conservatism and country.

John had a devilish wit. He was a bon vivant. He was a great conversationalist. And he was a very, very nice man.

Not only did John help The American Spectator into a national institution of conservative thought, and not only (more famously) did he use his fundraising prowess to help build The Heritage Foundation into the powerhouse it is today, but he also, on the side, helped numerous other organizations and initiatives find the financial support they needed to survive and thrive.

Moreover, he did it all with a rare joy that sticks in the memory forever. He might show up in your town and invite you for a beer. Or he would see you, bedraggled in the cold and freezing rain, leaving a football game and give you a ride home. He might accept your invitation for lunch and make it one of those old “three martini” feasts.

And as conservative as he was, he didn’t make enemies. Indeed, he forged close and lasting friendships, outside of politics, with people of all political persuasions.

I was told, just a few weeks before John died, that he told one of those dear mutual friends that he missed the Washington where, at a Louisiana tailgate party before a Redskins-Saints game in DC, he could see conservative stalwart Bob Livingston standing over a pot of gumbo in friendly conversation with liberal strategist Donna Brazile. He wanted Livingston’s side always to beat Brazile’s side (in politics), of course — but he didn’t want it to be personal.

The personal was not for politics, but for friendships.

John was a hero of the conservative movement. And he was a rare and generous friend — to those to whom he was quite close and also to those, like me, with whom he spent only sporadic, but eminently memorable, times together over meals or beers.

May God comfort his family and dear friends, and may The Baron rest in God’s joy forever.

Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor of National Review and a senior editor of The American Spectator.

Andrew Ferguson
Though I sat down to countless meals with him over the last thirty years, when I think of the Baron he is always standing, leaning against the bar, or looming over a cluster of friends and admirers in the middle of the room. His drink and cigarette are held, oddly, in the same hand. He juggled these two priorities, drinking and smoking, with admirable efficiency. He gripped the rocks glass with his index finger and pinkie, undergirded by the thumb, leaving the two middle fingers to hold the cigarette in reserve. He had to balance his priorities this way, because he needed one hand free to enable his ultimate priority, which was to amuse and edify and lift up everyone around him. As he pulled a joke from an ever-replenished supply, the free hand was brought in to drive the punch line home. When I think of him he is always just about to tell one of these jokes or has just told one, and he is always, always laughing.

Andrew Ferguson is a senior editor of the Weekly Standard.

Herbert W. Stupp
I recall my shock in the late 1970s, when as I was planning to pick up the Baron (“John” to most readers) at LaGuardia Airport one evening, I answered my phone to hear “I’m not coming to New York today. I have leukemia.”

As the Publisher of The American Spectator, Baron would often stay with me in Queens to save money on hotels, and then head in to Manhattan for his meetings.

During his chemotherapy treatment, Baron dropped from 180 pounds down to 125. I rented a car in Chicago to visit him at his parents’ home in Lafayette, Indiana. He was rebounding already, up to about 135 or 140 pounds. But it was far from certain that Baron would survive his leukemia, during a time when doctors had fewer remedies and therapies at their disposal.

Working for the magazine in the same college town — Bloomington — where he and Bob Tyrrell had studied, Baron understood the psyche of campus liberals, and relished poking fun at them.

Just as Baron was approved to go out in public, he weighed a bony 140 pounds on his six-foot frame, while his hair was returning in wisps and his fingernails were just growing back. Imagine the horror of the local McGovernites and faux-swamis when they saw Baron crossing a Bloomington street, leaning on his cane, but wearing an absurdly baggy triple-X t-shirt he had created, with the message “I AM A VEGETARIAN” boldly proclaimed on his chest.

That offbeat sense of humor we all came to love made him the individual we always looked forward to seeing, even if we knew he’d be asking for a hefty donation. True to form, on my last visit with him on August 24th, he saw my wife Judy and me entering his living room. “Get the hell out of my house,” he exclaimed before trading hugs with us.

No wonder he raised over $1 billion for the conservative cause. As “they” say, there will never be another Baron Von Kannon.

Herbert W. Stupp was Commissioner of the NYC Department for the Aging under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and was appointed by the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations as a Federal regional administrator.

Donald Rieck
I don’t know if John Von Kannon coined the phrase “You build a movement, not an organization,” or whether that phrase had been the part of the creed from earlier days of the conservative cause, but he lived out the spirit of that tenet like none other. So many have remarked, and will continue to remark, upon his impact across the movement, helping advance a multitude of organizations and individuals (I am one of those lucky individuals).

However, what made the Baron special was something broader, and in the end perhaps more important than his great labors for, and belief in, the conservative movement. What made him special was the simple fact that he was one of the nicest human beings one could ever meet.

I first met John, many years ago, seeking advice and help. I was nervous and somewhat overawed at that prospect. He was by then a legend in the movement, someone, as others have noted, who had met with Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Nobel Laureates. Yet such was his kindness and generosity of spirit that I came away feeling that I had spent the past half hour with a kindly uncle, sipping lemonade in some cozy den. In a city where, it is lamented, people don’t take their friendships too personally, the Baron was an open, generous, and true friend to so many.

Donald Rieck is executive director of The American Spectator.

Ben Stein
To know Baron Von Kannon was to love him. Smiling. Upbeat but not fooled by anyone or anything. Steadfast. Creative. He brought his daughter out to L.A. not long ago to show her colleges. I took them out to dinner in Beverly Hills, and he looked like a warm, furry nest for his daughter. His every twinkle of the eye told her the nest would always be there. God bless the Kapellmeister. And for the daughter, his love was such that he will never be gone.

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