Richard V. Allen Tribute to Niemeyer
Gerhart Niemeyer: In Celebration of His Life
February 15, 1907 – June 25, 1997
Tribute by Richard V. Allen
Sacred Heart Church
The University of Notre Dame
Friday, June 28, 1997
The celebration of a man’s life on an occasion such as this evokes memories and special recollections that span the period of his time with us here on earth, in this temporal order. But the moment also evokes floods of emotion, the first among them a bitterness that this very special person has been called from our ranks and will not return.
Gerhart Niemeyer was a man of great dimension and of great depth, a philosopher who understood, loved and practiced the Christian virtues and timeless principles that he cherished and taught. For this reason alone, the loss of their Father and their Opa is so poignant and meaningful to Lisa, Hermann, Lucian, Paul and Christian and to their children and children’s children. This family has its own large store of memories of its Father and Grandfather, and has always understood that the love and respect they have for him was shared by all those who came into contact with him in his many wonderful facets of life.
Father Malloy, our University’s President, celebrating this Mass, and Father Ted Hesburgh eulogizing Gerhart Niemeyer in this great church and on the campus of this extraordinary institution symbolizes the major role that Notre Dame played in the long span of Professor Niemeyer’s association with the University. Forty-two years ago, in the earlier days of Father Hesburgh’s presidency, the Niemeyer teaching and writing career continued its steady upward and demanding trajectory. Clearly, this University holds him in, and his contribution to it and to its students, in highest esteem.
I am so moved to speak these words of tribute, gratitude and respect today because I represent the generations of men and women who lives he touched, whose careers he helped shape, whose fundamental understanding of the world and one’s purpose in it was given special meaning and value by his teaching and, indeed, by his exemplary life itself.
There they are — literally thousands of young and not-so-young former students, many hundreds of former and contemporary colleagues in the groves of academe, the great journal National Review, public servants, members of his congregations, patients, nurses and doctors in hospitals and hospices, all who knew and benefited from the touch and concern of this teacher and practitioner of Christian and Catholic values.
The life of Gerhart Niemeyer intersected with, and influenced deeply, my life and that of my wife, Pat, and our seven children in a systematic way for more than forty years. As an undergraduate in this university’s political science department in 1955, it was my special good fortune to study under the great professors that Fr. Hesburgh had assembled here. Apart from outstanding teachers like Waldemar Gurian, Ferdinand A. Hermens, Paul Bartholomew, Raymond Cour, Stephen Kertesz and many others, there was the pinnacle of departmental excellence as exemplified by Father Stanley Parry, C.S.C. and Gerhart Niemeyer, in their electrifying tandem performance in political theory.
But I had still better fortune; as a graduate student, I served as Gerhart Niemeyer’s assistant, working with him on his Handbuch des Weltkommunismus, co-authored with the brilliant Dominican, Josef Bochenski. Through his association with the Relm and Earhart Foundations, Dr. Niemeyer made it possible for me to secure a grant for further studies, and then personally arranged for three years of study in Germany, most of that time with Eric Voegelin.
As we returned from Europe, he gave me the opportunity to work with him on another study, Communists in Coalition Governments, and introduced me to the people with whom I worked to help establish the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Georgetown University. He later urged me to accept a post at Stanford’s Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, and encouraged and advised me as I labored in two successful presidential campaigns. Small wonder, then, that I felt then and feel today such a sense of gratitude for his help to me, repeated many times over in the help he has given to countless others so lucky to have known him.
One reassuring fact of life today is that we no longer face a concentrated and lethal military threat led by the Soviet Union, still less by communists. Their system is largely in the dustbin of history, and where we see remnants of it, it is withering away.
That this happened is undeniable; how it happened is now argued by scholars and specialists.
Gerhart Niemeyer, a lifelong and resolute opponent of tyranny, made a specific and identifiable contribution to the dismantlement of the oppressive apparatus of what we called “the communist system.” He trained men and women not to be crude anti-Communists, but rather taught them to understand the communist ideology, that peculiar claptrap and jargon and its special way of seeing the world. The Niemeyer insight played both a direct role through his own actions and an indirect role, through those public servants who had studied with or had been influenced by him, in shaping those U.S. policies that accelerated and brought about the collapse of a ruthless and oppressive system, despite the fact that he later said he did not expect it to come so suddenly. Of course, no one did.
He was so special to the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, now in its fifth decade, that it presented its Lifetime Achievement Award to him on the occasion of his ninetieth birthday on February 15 of this year. On that day, by Lisa’s arrangement, Pat and I saw him for the last time. very ill, but remarkable in his appearance and precise as always in his mannerisms, we went out to lunch in Greenwich. He was impeccably turned out, and had that inimitable sparkle in his eyes, it was for us a magical day, a summation of all that this extraordinary man had done for us, with us for the modern mainstream conservative movement for more than four decades.
On behalf of all his students, all those whom he helped in so many truly Christian and Catholic ways, all those of whom he demanded excellence, all those he supported and encouraged, I am here to express profound gratitude and to pledge that we will try hard to live up to the faith and enduring confidence he had in us.
God Bless you, Gerhart Niemeyer, as you remain in our memories forever. Your job here was so very well done; now may you Rest in Peace!