Dr. J. D. Williams, the founding director of the Robert H. Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, died at his home in Salt Lake City on September 4.
The Hinckley Institute provides powerful education, usually in the form of on-the-knife-edge training, in practical politics, the kind of politics that can change things. Utah enjoys the benefits of many active people in politics who learned how to make things work better through a Hinckley Institute internship.
Dr. Williams led the Institute for its first ten years, from 1965 to 1975. He was an active Democrat, but the Institute trained people of all parties, and he enjoyed good working relations with politicians of all stripes. His personal interventions pushed many elected officials and other good citizens off to a good start.
I served two internships with the Utah House of Representatives, and got the benefit of Williams’ and Bae Gardner’s personal attention when they copied my application for a Washington intership with the National Wildlife Federation, and submitted it to the Secretary of the U.S. Senate, too. I lost out on the NWF internship to woman I knew who had a tenth of a point better GPA in biology than I did. But I got the internship in the office of Frank Valeo, who worked closely with his friend, Sen. Mike Mansfield of Montana, the Majority Leader.
It was a grand time in Washington in that spring of 1974, as Richard Nixon’s Watergate escapades were unfolding in the House Judiciary Committee, as the U.S. faced the first oil embargo from OPEC, as the peace in Vietnam was unraveling, and as a variety of other issues simmered across the nation.
Later I had the benefit of several great interns from the Hinckley Institute to help me out.
Robert H. Hinckley’s idea of practical political training was a great one. The Institute could easily have sunk into mediocrity, as just a clearing house for cheap labor for bad politicians. Under Dr. Williams’ leadership, instead it became a force for good political action, a focal point for ethical public officials.
It was a sad week for Democrats generally, in Utah. Former Gov. Calvin L. Rampton died today. He was 93.