Remembering a Hero
Some individual acts of heroism are so influential, so profound, that they serve to restore faith in human nature when all else seems lost. In a time that America's leaders lost touch with the people, where the government appeared corrupt and irresponsible, one particular example of courage served to remind people across the nation that hope still remained. The decision of Attorney General Elliot L. Richardson '41 to resign rather than fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox '34 during the Watergate investigation showed Americans that there were still some idealists, still some honest men in public service.
Richardson rose above his modest beginnings as a member of the Harvard Lampoon to become a public servant on a grand scale. A decorated World War II veteran, Richardson eventually held four cabinet posts, more than any other person in history. He was the primary architect of the Law of the Sea, a major international maritime treaty. Richardson later entered the realm of diplomacy as Ambassador to Great Britain.
Richardson's other accomplishments and service are exemplary, but it is for his defiant action in the face of Richard Nixon that he will always be remembered. He later remarked to a close associate that the decision to resign had been an easy one. If only it were so easy for the rest of us to make the tough decisions, decisions in the public interest instead of our own. By crystallizing the issue so clearly, by virtually creating the Saturday Night Massacre, Richardson not only exposed the misdeeds of the Nixon administration but set an example of bravery in the face of extreme adversity.
He will be sorely missed by a nation that continues to search for true heroes in public life.