Retired Celeste reflects at 75 on his public career

From the Columbus Dispatch, 1/1/13


Retired Celeste reflects at 75 on his public


Ex-governor says he relished job, despite its wounds

By Joe Hallett
The Columbus Dispatch Tuesday January 1, 2013 7:16 AM

And now, finally, Celeste is retired. Well …A classic goatee, close- cropped hair and svelte healthiness; a pin- striped shirt, bluejeans and navy-blue sport jacket — it all says something about a man. Mostly this: He’s hip.

But when the man is 75, as is Richard F. Celeste, the look says mostly this: He’s comfortable in his own skin.

That much was evident during a recent hour- plus conversation with one of the most- accomplished and – consequential Ohioans of the past half-century: a Rhodes scholar, state legislator, lieutenant governor, director of the Peace Corps, governor, ambassador to India and college president.



Then-Gov. Richard F. Celeste displays a copy of The Dispatch reporting his re-election victory over former Gov. James A. Rhodes in November 1986. Republicans say the Democratic governor was willing to work with them, and they praise his intellect.

Retired is the wrong word,” he said. “ Redirected is the right word. I call myself a senior adviser.”

More than a year out from his retirement after nearly nine years as president of Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Celeste is doing what senior statesmen do: serve on corporate and nonprofit boards, make a few bucks consulting, and find time to enjoy family and think deep thoughts, something the big-brained Celeste did even when he was crazy-busy.

On Nov. 11, Celeste’s birthday, his blended family and the cadre of “Celestials” he stirred to the cause of public service gathered at son Christopher’s house in Columbus to celebrate and commemorate the 30th anniversary of his election as Ohio’s 64th governor.

At age 21, Jan Allen was inspired to put law school on hold in 1978 and

At age 21, Jan Allen was inspired to put law school on hold in 1978 and

join Celeste’s first and failed quest for governor. Allen said the birthday party rekindled the esprit de corps of a once-youthful troop enticed by Celeste, a leader “who had the energy, the charisma, the communications skills and the incredible intelligence” on par with a famous peer, former President Bill Clinton, who was governor of Arkansas throughout Celeste’s tenure as Ohio governor, 1983-91.

“There is something about the Dick Celestes and Bill Clintons of the world,” said Allen, a senior staff member in Celeste’s first term. “They just create a ton of energy around them.”

Thirty years ago at this time, Celeste was assembling the most diverse and youthful cabinet the state had ever seen. It included a half-dozen women and four African-Americans, and the average age was 35.

Optimism abounded despite enormous challenges, including pushing a 40 percent income-tax increase through the legislature to close a $540 million state-budget deficit, and dragging Ohio into a technologically evolving world economy.

In the back of every Celestial’s mind, including the governor-elect’s, was the idea that a strong first term would lead to not only a second, but also a shot at the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988.

A John Lennon lyric — Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans — caught up with Celeste. Over the 30 years since 1982, life has come at him with its unpredictable fullness, a fury of ups and downs, of exhilarating highs and painful lows, dashing his hopes for the presidency but presenting vistas of opportunity and achievement that cause one to move forward without regret.

“I really don’t look back very much,” Celeste said. “I’m a what’s-ahead guy.”

What was ahead for Celeste after he left the governor’s office was a 1997 appointment by then-President Clinton to be ambassador to India, where, 34 years earlier, he had been posted as an assistant to Ambassador Chester Bowles, a cherished mentor.

In 2002, when Celeste was a finalist for the presidency of Case Western Reserve University in his hometown, Cleveland — a job he knew he wouldn’t get because the trustees thought he would serve only a few years and then run for governor or U.S. Senate in 2006 — a headhunter told him about Colorado College.

“I loved being a college president because I love being around young people, and throughout my career, part of what I tried to do — because it was what Chester Bowles did for me in the ’60s — was always look for young people to join me and to give them substantial responsibility.”

Celeste has 13 grandchildren, including two who are students at Colorado College. He and his wife, Jacqueline, who is about 27 years younger than he, still live in Colorado Springs with their 15-year-old son, Sam.

Calling Sam “a terrific young man,” Celeste said: “With him, I make up for some of the time I didn’t spend with my older kids when I was on my arc of ambition, trying to become governor of Ohio and all of that stuff.”

Celeste married Jacqueline Lundquist, a former Washington, D.C., public-

Celeste married Jacqueline Lundquist, a former Washington, D.C., public-

relations consultant, in 1995 after his 33-year marriage to Dagmar ended in divorce. Any wounds appear to have been healed by time. Celeste calls Dagmar “a good friend” and each year, he, Jacqueline and Sam go to a family reunion at Dagmar’s Lake Erie home on Kelleys Island with the six children from Dick and Dagmar’s marriage, who range in age from 49 to 35. Dagmar and all the kids were at the Nov. 11 party.

“We all talk regularly and don’t spend enough time together, and, as much as we try, it’s never enough,” Celeste said.

Reflecting on his career, Celeste said being governor is “probably the best job in public life,” and he relished his eight years.

“I loved every day of it, even when Mary Anne Sharkey was kicking my ass. My family didn’t always like it, but I loved every day of it. I felt enormously privileged to serve. I believe we made a big difference.”

Sharkey, now a Cleveland-area political consultant, was Statehouse bureau chief for The Plain Dealer and the co-author of a story in June 1987 alleging that Celeste had engaged in several extramarital affairs. Although Celeste acknowledged that the story “was certainly a consideration” in his decision not to run for president the following year, he said he had decided before then, after forays to Iowa and New Hampshire, that he had no appetite for the fundraising and time demands of a presidential bid.

“And my family had enough issues with me in public life, and me personally, that I didn’t want to put them through it,” he said.

Conceding that “it was hard not to like Dick Celeste,” Sharkey said his governorship failed to fulfill the “enormous potential” of the man. Although Celeste had promised to end cronyism in state government, stories abounded in the Ohio press about scandals and favoritism that marred his tenure, including criminal convictions of at least two high-level appointees.

“The Celeste administration brought Cleveland-style politics to the Statehouse, and they ended up making Cleveland politics a pejorative term,” Sharkey said.

To this day, some Celestials will not speak to Sharkey, but Celeste is not one of them. “He hugged me the last time he saw me,” she said. “People always thought it was personal, and it was not.”

Amid the bad was plenty of good, and in many areas, Celeste excelled as governor. He put the state on a sound financial footing and funded education and higher education at record levels, creating innovative programs such as Eminent Scholars to attract top research professors and the “ Edison program” to seed research that spurred the state’s growth in high-tech jobs.

Celeste was nationally praised for moving mental-health services to community-based care, boosting money for early-childhood education and creating the PASSPORT program to help elderly citizens receive in- home services. He fearlessly raised the state gasoline tax several times to fund vast improvements in the state’s highway system. Ohio’s unemployment rate was 14.4 percent when Celeste took office and under 5 percent when he left.

“He really was good to work with,” said Ohio House Speaker William G. Batchelder, R-Medina, who was in the House minority when Celeste was governor. “He had a first-rate mind. I think a lot of people just didn’t realize how bright he was.”

Celeste’s willingness to work across the aisle helped him handle Ohio’s 1985 savings-and-loan crisis, at the time the nation’s worst banking crisis since the Great Depression.

Stanley Aronoff of Cincinnati, a Republican who was the Senate president from 1989 to 1996, said Celeste’s creativeness and bipartisan approach ensured a solution that kept depositors from losing money in 69 privately insured savings and loans that the governor ordered closed until buyers for them were found.

“He thought beyond Ohio in some respects,” Aronoff said. “He found it very important to do some things that aren’t normally on a governor’s radar screen, and he had an ally in me. He didn’t mind calling me late at night. His mind was always buzzing in a positive way.”

Celeste said he was fortunate to govern in “a more-genteel time,” before government became paralyzed by hyperpartisanship. “Unyielding division is not healthy for the body politic,” he said.

“It’s a question of, how do you create a place where it’s safe to have real conversations and to think about compromise and ask the question, ‘Is there an Ohio interest that comes before a Republican interest and a Democratic interest in the process?’ 


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