Richard Reeves

American Hero; American Story

LOS ANGELES -- In the final months of any presidency, the men and women serving in the administration are ready to leave and move on with their lives. That was true of Harold Tyler, a New York lawyer who was the deputy attorney general for civil rights as the Eisenhower administration was winding down in 1960. But he had to find his own replacement, not an easy job because few lawyers were eager to leave their practices and lives to serve a few months in Washington.

Tyler had already been turned down by a dozen friends when he thought of a Princeton classmate named John Doar. They had played together on the school's basketball team. So Tyler called Doar, who was practicing law in his hometown of New Richmond, Wisconsin, a town that still has only 8,000 residents.

Doar immediately said yes! "I was bored out of my mind," he told me years later. Well, in 1961, with John F. Kennedy, a Democrat, in the White House, Doar, a Republican, packed up his car with an uncle named John McNally and got ready to head back home. He went to say goodbye to the new attorney general, Robert Kennedy. They chatted a bit and Doar said his uncle was waiting downstairs. "Who's your uncle?" asked Kennedy.

"Well," said Doar, "he's best known as 'Johnny Blood.'"

"You're kidding," said Kennedy. "Johnny Blood was one of my brother's heroes. He's here?"

Bob Kennedy called his brother, the president. "You won't believe who's here. Johnny Blood."

"Johnny Blood," now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, played most of a long career as a halfback with the Green Bay Packers, leading them to four league championships. He was also, as the official Packers history reports:

"As legendary off the field as he was on it, John McNally, who played under the name Johnny Blood, was a central figure in the Packers' early championship success. ... McNally is reported to have once leaped from a balcony to head coach Curly Lambeau's eighth-floor window ledge to collect an advance. Another time, when he was running late, he stopped the Packers' team train by blocking its path with his car -- with him still in it -- so he could be let on."

There was also the story that while he was in the Army in World War II, he went to see the Packers play the New York Giants. Lambeau saw him and said get that uniform off and suit up for the game. Legend has it he scored two touchdowns that day.

Borrowing a tie from his nephew, McNally was soon in the Oval Office. And John Doar was asked to stay on as deputy attorney general for civil rights.

John Doar died last week at the age of 92. If there was a Greatest Generation, he was one of its greatest men. I knew him when he was the chairman of the New York Board of Education -- not a great fit. His great years were in the 1960s when he literally walked into the violent rioting of young Negroes in places like Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, calming violent mobs, saying: "My name is John Doar -- D-O-A-R. I'm from the Justice Department, and anybody here knows what I stand for is right."

Indeed. The man stopped riots, stayed in the room with James Meredith during the integration of the University of Mississippi, and successfully prosecuted the Southern sheriffs and Klansmen killing black and white civil rights workers. Wherever there was trouble, John Doar was there. Recruited by the House of Representatives, he wrote the articles of impeachment of President Nixon in 1974.

Amazing stuff, I think. And there is much more. Johnny Blood ended his football career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The team's star was Byron "Whizzer" White; their water boy was John Doar. During the Kennedy administration, Doar's boss was Byron White, who later became a Supreme Court justice.

Still, there is sadness in this great American story. In the time of men like John Doar, Americans trusted their government to "stand for what is right."

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