Sunday, June 22, 2008

Ed Prichard, Eliot Spitzer and the Comeback

Ed Prichard, Eliot Spitzer and the Comeback

I'll always be around. and around and around and
around and around

-The Highwayman by Jimmy Webb

Author and CNN commentator Jeffrey Toobin recently spoke to the Kentucky Bar Association and told a fascinating story.

Several years ago, Toobin interviewed Donald Graham, Publisher of the Washington Post. He asked Graham where he got his middle name Edward. Graham told him he was named for Ed Prichard, who was his father Phillip’s closest friend.

David Halberstam’s bestseller The Powers That Be, chronicles the friendship that began when Prichard and Graham were Harvard Law students.

Prichard and Graham were the two brightest stars of their generation but their careers were cut short. Graham suffered from mental illness and ultimately committed suicide. Prichard was convicted of stuffing the ballot box in Kentucky. He spent time in jail and his political career was ruined.

25 years later, Prichard came back and huge impact on Kentucky’s education system.

Toobin became fascinated with Prichard’s story and Tracy Campbell biography of Prichard, Short of the Glory.

Toobin was also a Harvard Law school classmate of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer.

When Spitzer was forced from office, Toobin sent Spitzer a copy of Short of the Glory. Toobin hoped that Prichard’s story will inspire Spitzer to make a contribution to society like Prichard did.

An Ivy League education is supposed to give you a leg up on the world. Look at any list of important business, political and media figures. The Ivy League is all over it.

Barack Obama and Al Gore went to Harvard. Bill and Hillary Clinton graduated from Yale as did George H.W. Bush. George W. Bush did both. Yale undergraduate and a Harvard M.B.A.

Prichard and Spitzer threw away the advantages their education gave them.

I met Mr. Prichard in 1980 while I was a college student. I was charged with running a stop sign and he was my attorney. Prichard seemed to need the small fee I paid him. He was in poor health.

That same year, Prichard formed a group which in 1983 became the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. The group is one of the significant in the history of Kentucky. It promotes education reform and help Kentuckians value the importance of education as part of their overall quality of life.

The group is celebrated its 25th year by forming the Al Smith Fund for Education. Smith, one of the greatest living Kentuckians, is leading the charge for an endowment to continue the cause that Prichard spearheaded.

Smith is the perfect choice to head a cause related to Prichard. Al was a young man of promise who lost years to alcoholism and turned it all around in middle age.

The key ingredient in Prichard and Smith’s redemption is that they helped themselves by helping others.

It is the concept that many religions promote. The road to salvation comes from loving others as you love yourself. In the case of a guy like a self destructive guy like Prichard, he loved Kentucky more than he loved himself.

I’ll be curious to see if Spitzer will comeback like Pritchard did. People who screw up their lives often get bitter and withdrawn. Prichard did for many years. When Prichard started on the trail of redemption, he didn’t seek riches; he set out to make a difference.

As Toobin astutely noted, Prichard is a role model for people who self destruct and later find redemption. Prichard and I had a mutual friend who screwed up and went to prison. When our friend got out of jail, he went straight to Prichard for advice. He is now a success in business and life.

Prichard focused on helping others become educated. I’m not sure if he was atoning for the outstanding education he squandered but it was a good choice for his focus.

Education would also be a good area for Spitzer to devote himself to.

I hope Spitzer follows Prichard’s example and contributes to society. He has a lot of talent and the benefit of a fine education. If he uses those talents and education to help others, he’ll leave a legacy that will always be around and around and around.

Just like the legacy of Ed Prichard.

Don McNay is Chairman of McNay Settlement Group in Richmond, Ky. You can read his award winning, syndicated column at or write to him at

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