John Jacob Rhodes III

John Jacob Rhodes III

Died January 20, 2011

When Jay Rhodes died on June 20, 2011 of complications from an automobile accident, he had served three terms in Congress, asking himself, “What did I do to deserve this incredible honor?” The answer: it was in his DNA. His father, John Rhodes, had represented the First District of Arizona for 30 years, rising to become Republican minority leader. After John McCain held that seat for four years, Jay was elected with 71 per cent of the vote. “When I was sworn in on January, 1987,” Jay wrote, “I was flanked by my Dad . . . and by my sons and was proud to cry.” Jay described himself as a “ traditional Goldwater Republican,” which would not surprise anyone who knew he dated Barry Goldwater’s daughter in high school.

Jay prepared for Yale at the Landon School in Bethesda, MD, majored in history and resided in Jonathan Edwards. In 1968, he was awarded a J.D. by the University of Arizona College of Law. After law school but before he entered politics, Jay fulfilled his Yale R.O.T.C. obligation by serving as an intelligence advisor to the Vietnamese military. Of that time he wrote, “ I grew up. I learned. I experienced. I shared. I suffered. I watched, and I agonized and I am better for it.”

Jay worked his way up in politics as a Republican district chairman and president of the Mesa Board of Education. He specialized in water rights, serving with the Central Arizona Water Conservation District. When he reached Congress, Jay served on the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee. He was re-elected by a landslide to a second term and when he ran for a third term no Democrat even stood against him. Jay was an overwhelming favorite to win a fourth term but he was caught up in what became known as “the House banking scandal” (the practice of allowing members to write overdrafts on their House bank accounts) and was defeated in 1992.

After politics, Jay became a lawyer and lobbyist as special counsel for the law firm of Hunton & Williams, working on natural resources projects in the Lower Colorado River Basin. He also became president of the United States Association of Former Members of Congress and participated in election monitoring in Afghanistan and Ukraine.

Jay suffered the frustrations of being in the minority in Congress but “the thrill . . .has never been gone. When it is, I hope I am too.”

Bainbridge Cowell remembers:
As a cadet in Yale’s Army R.O.T.C. program, I remember Jay Rhodes as the highest-ranked member of our R.O.T.C. class. The Army faculty selected him as the cadet battalion commander; as such he stood out in front of our parade formations – a post that I admired from within the rank and file. As an undergraduate Jay showed the maturity and leadership that would launch his career in law and politics, culminating in three terms as U.S. Representative from the First District of Arizona from 1987-1993. He also served as an Army lawyer and captain in the Vietnam War.

William Thomas remembers:
What a great guy and friend from Entryway A in JE. “Jay” had the most wonderful wry sense of humor. He was lost to us way too soon in January of 2011 due to complications from injuries he sustained in an auto wreck the previous Fall of 2010. We all loved the fact that he had a car in senior year – a 1965 Mustang. Post Yale, I followed Jay’s Congressional election/activities in Arizona and Washington. He was a lawyer turned politician just like his father, John Rhodes, who was the House [Republican] Minority Whip for many years.

Ed Sears remembers:
Jay was a good friend and an honest, honorable man.

John Esslinger remembers:
Jay left us a few years ago. At his memorial service on Capitol Hill, I shared my recollections about Jay’s escapades on the night of Thursday, November 21, 1963. Around midnight, Jay painted “ Beat Harvard” in large blue letters in the middle of High Street, as it was two days until The Game. Around 3 AM, the Campus Police pounded on our door at JE. I answered and was accused of being the painter. Soon, the cops zeroed in on Jay. They said, “Hi Painter.” Jay denied any knowledge. They inspected his hands which bore several blue paint smears. Jay said, “ Yeah, Painter.” The cops had followed blue paint tracks made by Jay’s shoes to our door. A few weeks later, Jay appeared before a disciplinary board. The Campus Cop who was prosecuting Jay expressed outrage that Jay would perform such a frivolous act on the weekend that President Kennedy was shot, even though Jay had done his painting about twelve hours before the assassination! Jay received a slap on the wrist.

I recently found a letter Jay sent me from Vietnam in August 1970, days before my wedding. It read, “Dear Tom, I have received news of a nasty rumor, which is to the effect that in a scant 8 days you plan to take the deep six, and relieve an undoubtedly sweet young lady of the inconspicuous, innocuous moniker of ‘Smith’, and sad dle her with ‘Esslinger,’ and all that is implicit and explicit in that epithet. I write in desperate hope that the maiden of the mails will, for once, pick up her skirts and get this warning to you before it is too late. Tom, don’t do it.” Jay went on at some length before concluding, “ My best to you and Pat. I’m looking forward to meeting the who caught the only other confirmed bachelor I’ve ever known. She must be quite a fine girl. God bless you both, Tom and our best to you, forever. All that I am saying about the war is that it will be over in less than two months.”

The letter was vintage Jay Rhodes. He was a helluva guy and I miss him very much.