Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Driving North after a joyous family celebration at daughter Ellen’s house. In the back seat, a box of old files somebody found in their basement. I asked Polly to poke around, read some stuff. Jog some memories.

This one, written after an unsuccessful judicial election campaign, seemed especially apropos.

March 4, 1957

Civic Leadership Club

Holy Redeemer High School

Detroit, Michigan


I am enclosing a check for $14.65 representing the balance of your obligation to the student council fund for postage purchased on my behalf. Of course, it would be more satisfying to me to be able to express my thanks to you by enclosing a much larger check for your own treasury. Unfortunately, this is impossible at present.

But perhaps I can give you a few thoughts which, while they will not make your club any more affluent, may be of some help in advancing you, individually and as a group, toward your goal of leadership in the community. Remember first of all, that leadership is not an end in itself, but only a means to an end. The more successful you are in becoming leaders, the more certain you must be of the direction in which you are leading. And this is the awful responsibility of leadership.

The fact of that responsibility was brought home to me in a most unforgettable way when I was about your age.

When I was a freshman in college, a group of us fell into the practice of skipping classes and going over to Windsor to spend the day acquainting ourselves with the subtleties of the Canadian distiller’s art, by sampling their products in heady profusion.

None of us were of age to purchase the spirits, but I was amply endowed with the desire to be the ‘big shot’ and having purloined my older brother’s ID, I was the one who bought the bottle.

In due course, as it always happens, my father learned of the escapades and I was called on the carpet.

Here I should say a word about my father. I won’t bore you with the old joke about his being very stupid when I was 18, and learning a great deal by the time I was 21.

I will say, however, that when I was 18, I was scared to death of him, mostly because of an uneasy feeling that he was usually right and I was usually wrong.

In those days, if you had asked me to describe my dad, I think I would have simply said, “He is my father.” While I usually called him ‘Dad’ I never really thought of him as a “Dad.” To me, the word ’father’ meant the source of all money, all punishment, all favors, all disfavor, and all respect.

Somewhere along the line in these last ten years, my opinion of him has changed. I think today I would describe him simply as a ‘real man’ with all the nobility, the courage, the tenderness, and the strength which that expression implies.

Perhaps that’s all he ever was, and perhaps it was the cocked lamp of my own immaturity which cast his shadow so terribly long in those days.

In any event on that occasion, after pointing out that my big-shotism was responsible for the border crossing incidents, and that without my leadership, there would have been no trips to Windsor and no bottles of hooch, he when on to say, “Son, you are a leader. You don’t realize the power you have. Where you go, others follow. You wanted to go to Canada and they went with you. You could just as easily have led them to Saint Al’s.”

The point of it all is simply this: that a leader from Holy Redeemer High School should be a leader who knows where he is going and has the courage to go there.

Never let yourselves reach a point where you know more about unions, or law, or politics of anything else than you do about your religious faith.

As my father would say, “You know what’s wrong and you know what’s right. Do what’s right.”


Thomas E. Brennan

A few days later, my check for $14.65 came back in the mail.

The boys said I needed it more than they did.