'Kennedy Republican' John Doar headed Watergate investigation

The fact that Bob Dylan got a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama Tuesday obscured my vision, and it wasn't until I read the full list in the NY Times this morning that I realized a Wisconsin native, John Doar, was also a recipient.

I can't claim to know Doar personallly, but I do recall writing about him for the Wisconsin State Journal when he was named to head the House impeachment investigation of Richard Nixon in December 1973.

Thanks to the amazing Intertubes, I was able to find my story from Dec. 21, 1973, which I share to give you an idea of John Doar's stature.  His second in command for the investigation, by the way, was Madison attorney Richard Cates, one of the principals of the Lawton and Cates firm.  So it was really a Wisconsin show.

Anyway, here's a look into the wayback machine.  How many "Kennedy Republicans" do you know these days?

Wisconsinite John Michael Doar, new chief investigator into possible impeachment of President Nixon, is described by former colleagues as a "Kennedy Republican" with Lincoln-like qualities.

Doar. formerly of New Richmond, will be in a political hot seat in his post with the House Judiciary Committee. But he has proven before that he can take' the heat,and remain in the kitchen.

When James Meredith was turned away from the University of Mississippi in 1962 by Gov. Ross Barnett, Doar was at Meredith's 'side. When Meredith became the first black admitted to the school, Doar shared his dormitory room.

The next year, after the funeral of murdered black leader Modgar Evers, Doar walked between rock-tossing blacks and trigger-itchy police and roared: - - "My name is John Doar, D-0- A-R, I'm from the Justice Dept. and anybody around here knows I stand for what's right." The mob cooled, police relaxed, and tragedy was averted.

He received the President's Award for Dis- Pinguished Civilian'Service from President Lyndon Johnson.

He served in the Justice Dept. civil rights division for seven years under three presidents, then went on to. head the New York City school board during its most turbulent limes. Most recently, he has headed the Bedford- Stuyvesanl Development and Services Corp., an ambitious self-help program in a deteriorating Bnxiklyn ghetto.

Despite all t h a t , "he's very typical of what people think of as a small-town lawyer," Madison Atty. Arvid A. Sather said Thursday. Sather worked under Doar for 3-1/2 years in the Justice Dept.

"He has a very disarming manner," Sather said. "He's very folksy and gets along with people.. He reminds you a little of Abraham Lincoln. He's carried his small-town.traits with him to the highest levels."

Sather characterized Doar as fair, open-minded, and objective. "Of all the people I've worked with, he's as capable as anyone of keeping his own personal opinion out of things," he said.

State Sen. Robert Knowles (R-New Richmond), Dear's first cousin, described him as a "Kennedy Republican, if there is such a thing. He was a good friend of the Kennedys and was especially close to Bobby." "He's a tremendously hardworking individual with great ability to concentrate on a problem," Knowles said. "He's modest and shuns personal publicity, but he seems to attract it."

Another cousin, ex-Gov. Warren Knowles, described Doar as "a very tenacious, hardworking and' intelligent individual. I think he's a fine choice for the position."

Doar. now 52, grew up in New Richmond, served in the Army Air Corps, and was graduated from Princeton. After receiving a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley he joined the law firm established by his father, the late Thomas Doar Sr., and Warren Knowles. His brother, William T. (Tom) Doar, still practices law in New Richmond.

Doar was lured from the lucrative law practice to join the Justice Dept. in I960, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was President. He rose to chief of the Civil Rights Division in 1963, after five years as the division's No. '2 man.

A lifelong Republican, he considered running for Congress on the GOP ticket in 1958, but did not enter the race. He was offered the Justice Dept. job by a Princeton classmate, Harold Tyler.

One of Doar's children is named for Robert P. Kennedy, and another for Burke Marshall, whom he succeeded as civil rights chief in the Justice Dept.

Doar is divorced. He likes to spend his free time puttering around the family's country home in Millerton, N.Y., clearing underbrush and chopping firewood. In the winter he and his four children — who range in age from 10 to 22 — enjoy cross country skiing.

The family will remain in Brooklyn during the impeachment inquiry.


May 30, 2012 - 4:56pm