Oxy Celebrates Jack Kemp '57
In a joyous and affectionate celebration of the life and career of Jack Kemp ’57, Occidental College unveiled a new statue of the famed pro quarterback on Patterson Field April 29 before paying tribute to Kemp the statesman at a gala dinner that featured a stirring address by entrepreneur and former FCC chairman Dennis Patrick ’73.
The afternoon ceremony under a tent on the 50-yard line also featured a surprise for Joanne Main Kemp ’58 and the more than three dozen Kemp and Main family members in attendance: an announcement that the Occidental Board of Trustees had voted to name the College’s first and oldest athletic facility Jack Kemp Stadium.
In the day’s final tribute to Kemp, Patrick called him a man of ideas, a contrarian with the intellectual courage to follow those ideas wherever they led, regardless of the prevailing wisdom or political orthodoxy.
“It is in this realm of ideas and how we approach them that Jack’s example finds the greatest congruence with the institution whose grounds will now be graced with one of his memorials,” said Dennis, current chairman of National Geographic Ventures. “It is no coincidence that Jack began his career at Oxy … His willingness to explore alternative ideas, to debate them with rigor but without rancor, was in the best tradition of the liberal arts and of Occidental College.”
Occidental President Jonathan Veitch sounded a similar theme in his appraisal of Kemp, calling him “the epitome of the well-rounded graduate Oxy strives to produce … a man who fought for his intellectual principles as fiercely and effectively as he did for yardage on the football field.”
“But we also honor Jack Kemp because we want to make sure that everyone knows that this is a college that is committed to the full range of political opinion,” Veitch continued, echoing a commitment he made in his 2009 inauguration speech. “We believe strongly that you cannot know your own mind unless you are exposed to ideas from across the political spectrum, left, right and center.”
Kemp spent 13 years in pro football and led the Buffalo Bills to the 1964 and 1965 American Football League championships. A nine-term Congressman, Kemp was a Republican presidential candidate in 1988, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development for the first President Bush, and Bob Dole's vice presidential running mate in the 1996 presidential race. His pioneering support of supply-side economic theory played a key role in the modern conservative movement.
Under the tent on Patterson Field, Joanne Kemp told a crowd of more than 300 people, including children Jeff, Jimmy, and Judith Kemp, long-time friend Rep. Dan Lungren, and the entire Occidental football team, that “This is an incredible experience … To have all of you family members, college friends, and other alumni here is an incredible joy and pleasure.”
Several long-time friends and former Oxy teammates, including former NFL coaches Jim Mora ’57 and Doug Gerhart ’58, Mike Quint ’58 (who introduced Jack and Joanne at Oxy), and brother Dick Kemp ’62, remembered the driven athlete they knew who beat the odds to make it in the pros who combined a passion for football with a love of the arts and history.
“At that time and even now, for a player from a small school like Oxy, the chances of making in the pros are almost nil. That’s just the way it is,” said Mora, one of Kemp’s receivers at Oxy. The odds were even greater for Kemp, who didn’t start at quarterback until his junior year and played on teams that were “OK – nothing special. But Jack always had a strong desire to play pro ball, and the drive and the confidence to do it.”
“Whatever he wanted to do, Jack was focused,” said Gerhart, who called Kemp the most inspirational person in his life, after his father. “It was almost as if he willed something to happen.”