Thomas A. Van Meter

Conservative Republican Thomas A. Van Meter was eulogized yesterday as a man of deep conviction who inspired and nurtured a new generation of conservative activists in Ohio.

"The shadow he cast over Ohio's political landscape was longer and more clearly etched than many of his contemporaries," Gov. George V. Voinovich told hundreds of mourners assembled at the Park Street Brethren Church in Ashland.

Van Meter, who served in the Ohio Senate and House and unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for governor in 1982, died Saturday after a bout with cancer. He was 48.

Republican state lawmakers, county commissioners and party officials crammed into the church to pay their last respects to the man whom supporters warmly called "Mr. Conservative" and whom shuddering critics called the ringleader of the "Caveman Caucus."

Rep. John Kasich, R-12, of Westerville, drew chuckles when he said, "Tom Van Meter is truly to the right hand of God as he looks down on us today."

Kasich and Voinovich credited Van Meter with doing more than any other politician to draw young people to the Republican Party. A number of the proteges mourned in the church, including Rex Elsass, state GOP executive director; Douglas Preisse, a top Voinovich aide; and Robert Klaffky, who works in Van Meter, Ashbrook & Associates Inc., Van Meter's consulting firm.

Voinovich said Van Meter gave him sound political advice at a bleak point in his career.

"In late 1988, we ate at Top of the Town in Cleveland," Voinovich said, recalling when he had just badly lost his race for the Senate against Democrat Howard Metzenbaum. "He said, 'George, run for governor. Do it.' And we did. Without Tom's early support - and it was catalytic - I would not be governor today.'

Voinovich named Van Meter to the Ohio Liquor Control Commission last year, but Van Meter stepped down in the wake of disclosures about his potential conflict of interest as a registered lobbyist.

Van Meter, an aggressive political tactician, was heading the GOP effort to capture majority control of the Ohio House when he died. He was credited with developing the master plan that eventually gave Republicans control of the Ohio Senate in the early 1980s.

Jim Underwood, The Plain Dealer's Columbus bureau chief, also eulogized Van Meter. He said it was a tribute to Van Meter's sense of humor that Van Meter wanted "a liberal, left-wing journalist" among the eulogists at his funeral.

Recalling the many political debates they shared over the years, Underwood said: "I suggested he learn more about liberal politics. He said it would be impossible to visit that many asylums."

Underwood said he would remember Van Meter as "the conservative centurion guarding the cause against all enemies."

The Rev. Arden Gilmer, the church pastor who led the mourners in prayer, said President Bush and former President Richard M. Nixon called Van Meter's widow, Nancy, Monday with their condolences.

F. Clifton White, director of the John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs, which Van Meter founded in 1983 in memory of his mentor, said, "Tom was a politician and was proud of it." Ashbrook, who had been a congressman, died in 1982.


From:The  Plain Dealer, Cleveland, OH - March 12, 1992


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