Posted on

O’Bannon belongs to the community and the ages

The late Gov. Frank L. O’Bannon of Corydon was such a many-faceted man with so many diverse interests in both his private and public lives that it’s impossible to sum up his legacy in a few words. That will take a book by a scholar later. But as our memories of him rush over us now, as his absence makes his influences all the more present, as his poignant memorial services are underway in both Indianapolis and Corydon, we think of many achievements.
First, Frank O’Bannon loved children and knew that early childhood education would have a tremendous bearing on their success as adults. He worked hard to start full-day kindergarten. He was the first governor to invite thousands of fourth grade students to make their study of Indiana history come alive by being present at a dramatic inauguration in the state capital.
In elementary and high schools, standards and expectations were raised high during O’Bannon’s tenure. His keen interest in education extended to the university level. Indiana has many great universities, and O’Bannon wanted them funded so they would continue to be great. The Community College system was started during the O’Bannon-Kernan Administration.
The O’Bannon Administration created an aggressive, innovative health insurance plan to cover one-quarter million impoverished children.
His name will be attached to difficult state property tax restructuring that was mandated by a court ruling and is still being sorted out.
The handsome White River State Park complex and the magnificent State Museum in Indianapolis will stand for decades as visible testimonies to Frank and Judy O’Bannon’s interest in Indiana history and culture. If you haven’t visited them yet, you should.
As the national recession battered state financial conditions and manufacturing jobs shrunk, O’Bannon and Lt. Gov. Joe Kernan worked hard to develop an economic development plan for the future to attract high-tech industries and good-paying jobs. The dismal state revenue picture had to have taken its toll on the governor, who, buoyed by a $2 billion budget surplus just a few years ago, had cut taxes and improved state services.
Personally, we knew Frank as someone who was kind, gentle, honest, hard-working, approachable, absolutely unpretentious, low-key, smart and wise. He was optimistic, upbeat even in tough times, and he loved to laugh. He never criticized anyone but, instead, brought out the best in people. Many people noticed that he was quick to give others credit, often when he deserved it. All throughout Indiana, people of all walks of life, politics and ethnic background feel they have lost a good friend.
He searched for consensus, compromise and common ground; he treated his political rivals as his friends ‘ in fact, they were his friends.
Lee Hamilton said he was comfortable with kings and paupers.
Several speakers at his wonderful memorial service Friday in Indianapolis said he epitomized the word Hoosier. Kernan said he was ‘exactly who he seems to be. He was the real McCoy.’ Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso of Indianapolis said O’Bannon ‘wore the crown of a good name,’ which is true. The good O’Bannon name, associated with good public service and leadership, now goes back three generations.
Our friend Frank was interested in literature, music, nature, photography, technological gadgetry and sports of all kinds. He was utterly dedicated to his amazing wife, Judy, their family, his church, this newspaper, this community, the Democrat Party and our state. He and Judy literally gave the best parts of their lives to public service so that others could have a good life, said U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh. Chief Justice Randall Shepard, who presided at Friday’s solemn service outside the Statehouse, said correctly that Indiana has lost its best friend.
Shepard quoted the English playwright George Bernard Shaw, whose words apply to Frank L. O’Bannon:
‘I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. The harder I work, the more I live …
‘Life is no brief candle for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as I can before turning it over to future generations.’