Another day, another dispiriting defeat for the Thomas More Law Center. You may not have heard of this regional oddity, a right-wing legal action team founded by Tom Monaghan, the Domino’s Pizza tycoon turned religious crusader. The Wiki passage on its founding gives you the gist:
The Center was founded in 1999 by Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza, and Richard Thompson, the former Oakland County, Michigan prosecutor known for his role in the prosecution of Jack Kevorkian, and who now serves as the Law Center’s President and Chief Counsel. Among those who have sat on the Law Center’s advisory board are: Senator Rick Santorum, former Senator and retired Rear Admiral Jeremiah Denton, former Major League Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, noted Catholic academic Charles Rice, former Fortune 500 CEO Mary Cunningham Agee, and Ambassador Alan Keyes. Santorum has played a crucial role in promoting intelligent design through his Santorum Amendment; however, following the Center’s defeat in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case (see below), Santorum resigned from the Law Center’s advisory board. Originally, the Law Center’s funding came from Monaghan’s Ave Maria Foundation, but is now primarily financed by contributions from individuals, foundations, and corporations.
Richard Thompson prosecuted Kevorkian with such gusto, single-mindedness and, um, failure, that he was eventually turned out of office in conservative Oakland County, no small feat. Fortunately, Monaghan was able to be his sugar daddy and help him land on his feet in a job better-suited for his talents, i.e., losing more cases, but this time on behalf of God. The Thomas More Center was the prime mover in the Dover intelligent-design case (which it lost), the Terry Schiavo fiasco (lost), and various actions seeking to stop taxpayer-supported institutions from offering same-sex domestic-partner health-care benefits (lost).
They don’t always lose; it successfully defended an Ann Arbor high-school girl who wanted to condemn homosexuality in a class discussion. Yay, them. People should be free to be idiots. Otherwise, well, it’s hard to push Republi-God’s case in a pluralistic democracy. How do you keep raising money when you keep losing, I wonder? I guess when you’ve positioned yourself as the Last Best Hope of Republi-God, losing doesn’t necessarily hurt your cause; in fact, it’s proof that wallets need to open that much wider.
Interesting to see “former Fortune 500 CEO Mary Cunningham Agee” on that list. I spent a few hours digging her up last winter, when I was researching the Detroit Economic Club book; Bill Agee was on the club’s board for a while, and the whole tawdry Bill-and-Mary show unfolded right here in the Metro. I even stumbled across the Gail Sheehy series about St. Mary, and… I’m getting ahead of myself.
To those who might not remember: Right around 1980, Bill Agee, then president of Bendix, then an auto supplier of some note, hired a pretty young protege, Mary Cunningham. She was a newly minted Harvard MBA and had long blonde hair and the sort of gleam in her eye that can only come from a girl whose primary male caretaker growing up was a Catholic priest (a cousin of her divorced mother). Soon, cruel rumors began to swirl through the company, that Agee and Cunningham were doing the after-hours horizontal mambo in the executive suite, or wherever they had moved their mentor-protege relationship at cocktail hour. The rumors gained momentum when they were picked out of the crowd at the Republican National Convention by a TV camera, which showed them gazing fondly into one another’s eyes in a way that anyone with five minutes of experience in male/female relationships would recognize as distinctly unbusinesslike.
Well. Then Agee stood up at the company’s annual meeting and, without being asked, addressed the rumors. Nothing to them, he assured the stockholders. That gave every business journalist in earshot permission to start writing about them, and the cat exited the bag.
Some stories are all about timing, and this one broke at the precise moment women were starting to elbow their way into corner offices, with all the attendant gossip about just how they got there — on their backs, of course. It also happened when Gail Sheehy, the writer of giant zeitgeist tomes, was already in a pretty deep relationship with Cunningham, researching a story on this very phenomenon — successful businesswomen, that is. So, when the story about her and Agee started to roll, Sheehy quickly batted out a three-part series on Cunningham that was widely syndicated in American newspapers.
I was just starting my career at the time, so young and callow I blush to remember. I recall reading the series and seething with sympathy for poor, poor Mary. Not surprising; I could find it with some deep Googling, but I’m pressed for time this morning, and this Time summation is pretty dead-on:
Written by New Journalist Gail Sheehy (Passages), the series unblushingly depicts Cunningham as an angel, awesomely gifted, scrupulously moral and out to improve the world through humane capitalism; it is laced with enough mawkish prose and gratuitous personal detail to make Harold Robbins blush. As the scandal mounted, for instance, Sheehy reported: “Mary Cunningham sat in her hotel room at the Waldorf. She could not eat. Every so often, she stepped into the bathroom to vomit.” Also: “The mildew of envy is a living, corroding organism in the corridors of power.”
I didn’t see this at the time. I saw Cunningham the way Sheehy did, a victim of jealousy and all that blonde hair. The story finally played out with Cunningham leaving Bendix for Seagram’s, where she could improve the world through the humane selling of liquor, I guess. Agee made some bonehead moves at Bendix and ended up losing the company. And — I know you will be as shocked as I am — Bill and Mary got married. Yes, they’d been in love all along. I can’t find a cite for this, but I believe they deployed the old “no, we weren’t sleeping together, but the ordeal pushed us into one another’s arms” defense. A People story at the time gets to the point:
She says now, “Maybe the world is just a little young yet to understand the difference between a profound love for someone that you work with and for, out of sheer respect for their professional talents, and being in love.”
Yes. Yes, that’s it exactly.
And then they kind of went away. When I looked them up this past winter, the first thing I found was the picture taken at the convention; looking at it with eyes 30 years older was a revelation. Of course these people were in love; it was so plainly written on their faces that anyone sitting nearby would have moved out of respect for their privacy and fear of getting hit by a flying shoe when they started tearing one another’s clothes off. Then I found the Sheehy series, and marveled at its ridiculousness, but also at its spot-on portrayal of a type I’ve come to know well since — the Catholic saint who is not sinning, oh no. This body does its own thing, but the mind — the soul — is always looking toward heaven. They are pure, pure beings consisting mainly of light and stained glass, and if one or two of the windowpanes get a little grimy, well, we’re all human, aren’t we?
But I was most amazed by this: After Agee lost Bendix, after he married Mary (and converted to Catholicism, under the instruction of Mary’s guardian priest), he went to Morrison Knudsen, the Idaho company that built the Hoover Dam, and ran it into the ground. There was a story from one of the Idaho papers that said Agee tried to do his job from Pebble Beach, which Mary preferred over Boise, flying back and forth on the company jet a few times a week. And then both of them withdrew to a quieter level of business, him running a small charitable foundation, her something called the Nurturing Network, which supports women in problem pregnancies. Contrary to the More Center’s Wikipedia entry, I don’t think she ever reached Fortune 500 CEO status. (A where-are-they-now piece from 2005 adds another priceless detail: Homeschooling. Naturally.)
So this epic love story played out, in other words, with two embarrassing corporate train wrecks and a comfy life financed by golden parachutes? Mary is using her Ivy League MBA to essentially run a crisis pregnancy charity? That, friends, is the waste of a good college education.
Maybe she can give the Thomas More people some tips.
Bloggage? There might be some, but I’m running late. I’m meeting my students this week, so another chunk of office hours awaits. If you found something interesting you’d like to share with the class, leave it in comments. I have to get dressed and catch a rabbit.
Have a great day, all.