Throughout James Schlesinger’s 85 years on planet Earth, there were at least three separate instances where he stepped out of his comfort zone and did what truly made him happy. They all led to dynamic changes in his life that put his name firmly in the American history books, even though the most historically observant of us would have trouble telling someone else who Schlesinger was. Despite his current level of ambiguity amongst the current population, Schlesinger helped change America into the country we live in today.
Born in 1929 in a Jewish family living in New York City, Schlesinger was quick to make his mark, and quick to come out of his comfort zone. He was accepted to Harvard where he completed his BA, MA, and PhD. Schlesinger then converted to Lutheranism from Judaism after meeting Rachel Mellinger of Springfield, Ohio, a young girl who would one day be his wife.
After school, Schlesinger went on to teach at the University of Virginia before going to work for the Rand Corporation. Schlesinger was asked in 1969 to work for the federal government, first as part of the Bureau of the Budget and then with the Atomic Energy Commission. In 1973, he was assigned his biggest task thus far by being appointed the thankless job as head of the CIA in the midst of the Watergate scandal. A lifelong Republican, Schlesinger would only be in this role for a short period of time, as the Nixon administration was coming to an end and the Ford administration was gearing up to take over.
It was under President Ford that Schlesinger became the Secretary of Defense and headed all of the United State’s military forces. After refusing to attack Cambodia in retaliation moves, Schlesinger was forced to resign by Ford for refusing to follow orders. In his short time outside of government, Schlesinger served as the head of several energy companies before he was asked to step outside his comfort zone again. This time, it was by President Jimmy Carter. Carter, a Democrat, asked the Republican Schlesinger to serve as this country’s first Secretary of Energy. Schlesinger did it because he felt he should serve his country no matter what his country asked of him.
Schlesinger continued to work for several years after he left the government, and he still had one more chance to go out of his comfort zone. In his retirement, the New York City native moved to a farm in Springfield, where he and his wife spent part of their time. After his wife died in 1995, Schlesinger stayed in Springfield and continued to donate to local charities, especially musical ones, as his wife loved to play the violin.
Schlesinger died on March 27,and after his funeral at Grace Sheppard Lutheran Church in Springfield, he was buried in the Ferncliff Cemetery. When looking back at Schlesinger’s life, we should remember how he worked tirelessly and thanklessly for the government and its citizens, but also for his strength in going out and doing things outside of his comfort zone because that’s what made him happy.