Book Review: ‘Families: Where We Each Begin’

This family odyssey Is engaging American history
July 24, 2019 Updated: July 24, 2019

Across the educational landscape, from K–12 on through the universities, the liberal arts and history, in particular, are being downplayed and discouraged. In some cases, this is an effort to steer young people to math and science studies that are likely to lead to solid careers.

But others oppose the way that traditional U.S. history and Western civilization have been taught.

It may fall to each of us to help preserve what is so positive and remarkable about the United States by informing our descendants and others of our families’ odysseys, challenges, and history. It’s real American history and true-life drama.

In researching and writing “Families: Where We Each Begin,” Randal Teague acceded to his adult children’s wish to write a memoir of his own life, with considerable effort devoted to a comprehensive family history dating back to the early 1600s in Jamestown Colony, through the American Revolution, both sides of the Civil War, and the modern American conservative intellectual and political movements.

Teague_Randal
Randal Teague. (Courtesy of Randal Teague)

He demurred that his life was “not consequential enough” for a memoir, but it has indeed been consequential, and we can be grateful that his kids won out.

I first met Teague in 1969, when I was a 19-year old college student in New York City and he was the 25-year old professional, decisive, articulate, and Washington-based executive director of the growing Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), the nation’s premier conservative youth organization.

At that age, six years difference was noteworthy, and I absorbed lessons in leadership from him, though in hindsight, it was quite amazing that a 25-year old could help to lead a 50-state operation to greater influence and a heightened public profile. Two YAF national chairmen served by Teague, David Keene and Ronald Docksai, have themselves carved out distinguished Washington careers, owing in part to symbiotic young adult relationships within YAF.

Merely becoming a partner at a K Street national law firm is consequential enough for most people. But Teague used his knowledge, experience, and time to advance the charitable efforts of educational, religious, and other organizations, addressing the cause of liberty, poverty alleviation, and other human afflictions around the world. He found time to foster more realistic understandings of the Soviet Union and other nations through his leadership of the American Council of Young Political Leaders, which arranged for exchanges between emerging Americans of influence and young leaders from around the world.

Teague became legal counsel to the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), founded by Goldwater campaign guru F. Clifton White, helping to create its structure and enlist bipartisan talent to help the nations suddenly freed from the yoke of Soviet communism and looking for help in establishing democratic systems. IFES provided these mostly East European countries with technical assistance in the creation of effective and credible electoral systems and 30 years later has worked in more than 100 countries.

He continues to serve as chairman of an organization I know well, The Fund for American Studies, founded by William F. Buckley Jr. and others. Now, thanks to President Roger Ream and board leadership from Teague, the fund offers programs and institutes in the United States and globally, presenting academic programs and internships in such disciplines as journalism, business, law, nonprofit management, and an array of political courses, such as presidential leadership.

Though not a household name, Teague has had a ringside influence on some of the most consequential debates and struggles of the past century. How about also being chief of staff to the “most important politician” in the 20th century who didn’t become a U.S. president? That is how Morton Kondracke and Fred Barnes have described Secretary and Rep. Jack F. Kemp.

Kemp was the 1970s’ most vocal elected advocate for reductions in federal income tax rates. Tapping Teague’s leadership, he hired the staff and crafted the legislation that would first persuade U.S. Sen. Bill Roth to sign on, and then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan in the late 1970s to secure its enactment once Reagan was elected in 1980.

The results of the Reagan-Kemp-Roth tax cuts and reforms are known to all but a few New York Times columnists. A robust 1980s recovery from recession, a roaring economy for more than a decade, a doubling of federal income tax revenues during the Reagan years, and the creation of about 35 million jobs were the results of that 1982 law.

Yet for all his professional and voluntary accomplishments we’ve cataloged, it’s clear that Teague began writing this book for his family. A Teague descendant in 2019 might be more interested in “Families” than would a random neighbor. But once nosing through this book, that neighbor might well be as engrossed as I have become.

That’s thanks to Teague’s genealogical and historical research, which can serve as a template for anyone undertaking such a family and personal history. The harder Teague worked at this, the luckier he got.

Noting that there have been “southern Teagues” and “northern Teagues” since the surname appeared in this hemisphere, Teague established that he and perhaps 9,000 other Americans traced back to a Teague in Virginia and Maryland: John, an indentured servant in 1652.

He also learned that he, while not a direct descendant of President Thomas Jefferson, traces back to that president’s grandfather and namesake, Thomas. There were two Democrat Teagues and one Republican in the U.S. House during his work in Washington. 

Teague’s memoir provides sagacious quotes from his parents and grandparents, which will hearken back to many of our own dinner table conversations. One of his father’s winners is a prescient reminder for many of us: “You are seldom the smartest person in a room. But you can most of the time be the hardest working person in that room, the first one there, and the last to leave. Others will note that.”

Raised partly in Durham and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Teague moved with his family to St. Petersburg, Florida, where, in high school, he began winning science awards and setting an educational trajectory toward marine biology. We might have had an American Jacques Cousteau on our hands, but for one of his high school teachers and mentors, David Jones, who departed teaching to immerse himself in national conservative politics in the nation’s capital. 

Families Where We Each Begin by Randal Teague
“Families: Where We Each Begin” by Randal Teague. (iUniverse Press)

Teague would follow Jones not only to Washington but succeeded him in his YAF and Fund for American Studies roles. The many people Teague has influenced and befriended in politics, law, government, education, and philanthropy are surely glad that he followed Jones, and not some manatee, however deserving, to a Gulf coast estuary.

In his introduction, Teague explained that his book “is about what I did to move forward in my life.” It’s much more than that. With history in such decline in the schools and colleges, it will be more than partly left to many of us to fill the growing vacuum by writing about our own family odysseys, painting written pictures of our lives, times, principles, and events along the way. 

Get cracking, start researching and writing. One of us might generate the finest memoir since Ulysses S. Grant!

‘Families: Where We Each Begin’
Randal Teague
iUniverse Press
324 pages; softcover $20.99

Herbert W. Stupp served in the presidential administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush; Stupp was also a commissioner in the cabinet of New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

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