Meese Family Legacy; Lives of Public Service

Article excerpt


"Selfless" is a word one does not hear often in Washington, but it accurately describes Ed Meese. His adult life has encompassed a series of jobs in which public service and policy fulfillment - not riches or glory - were his goals. He came by this naturally, for he grew up thinking of public service as a calling.

His grandfather, the first Edwin Meese, was a councilman and city treasurer in Oakland, Calif. His father, Edwin Meese Jr., held the nonpartisan elected office of Alameda County Tax Collector for 24 years (twice a year I sent property tax checks made out to him). Edwin Meese III and his three brothers grew up in a family where civic-mindedness, public service, patriotism, self-reliance and religious devotion were the fabric of everyday life.

Valedictorian of his high school graduating class, Ed won a scholarship to Yale. There he exhibited a characteristic seen at every stage in his career: He was involved in several activities at once, yet managed to find time for all of them.

Lee Edwards, a seasoned biographer, lets the facts speak for themselves. He takes us through Mr. Meese's career, the climax being his time as U.S. Attorney General (extended by his positions since: the Heritage Foundation's Ronald Reagan Fellow in Public Policy and the Hoover Institution's Distinguished Visiting Fellow).

His first job after college and Army service was deputy district attorney in Alameda County. He and his high school sweetheart, Ursula Herrick, were married in 1959. In September 1964, student "activists," demanding abolition of grades and a role in governing the University of California at Berkeley, occupied the chancellor's office. Mr. Meese, point man for the DA's office, recommended arresting the occupiers lest there be "another mob scene, even bigger, the next day."

When newly elected Gov. Ronald Reagan looked for a legal affairs secretary, he chose Mr. Meese. In 1969, when Mr. Reagan's chief of staff William Clark was named a judge, he asked Mr. Meese to succeed Mr. Clark. Mr. Meese stayed in that post for the remainder of Mr. Reagan's Sacramento years. He had Mr. Reagan's confidence, not least for his ability to summarize issues in a clear, concise manner. Mr. Edwards quotes Reagan biographer Lou Cannon as saying Mr. Meese was "Reagan's geographer - someone who drew maps of Mr. Reagan's world and charted courses that enabled the governor to reach his destination."

By the time Mr. Reagan's second gubernatorial term ended in January 1975, Mr. …