The Magazine

Michael Joyce, 1942-2006

The godfather of conservative philanthropy.

Mar 20, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 25 • By JAMES PIERESON
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This made Mike much more than an executive. Irving Kristol once called him "the godfather of modern philanthropy" because he presided over the birth of so many important magazines, institutions, and programs, and nurtured so many talented scholars. Indeed, his partnership with Irving Kristol catalyzed many of these very achievements. The Irish son of Cleveland's working class and the Jewish intellectual by way of Brooklyn and the City College of New York admired one another precisely for their differences. Irving was the thinker, Mike the man of action. Yet both had a knack for judging talent, for bringing ideas into the world of politics, for selling them to allies and the public. And both relished intellectual combat. Through Irving, Mike entered the orbit of neoconservatism, which he thought of not as a doctrine but as a skeptical disposition toward life, one that expressed the basic assumptions of the Catholic culture in which he had been raised.

Mike lived to create, to invent, to shape the world according to his dreams; and once he had created something, he often moved on quickly to newer challenges. In recent years, as his creative powers waned, he started to resemble a mythic hero in want of some life-sustaining nourishment. Mike's fire had burned bright, but longevity was not in his make-up.

As his health was failing, and along with it his will, friends did not know how to help. Stories circulated of erratic and self-destructive behavior. He suffered quietly and privately, in tune with his nature. He must have borne some internal wound that could not be salved by mortal touch. We did not understand that a man who had won debates all over the world and had helped to change the thinking of a nation might in the end lose an argument with himself.

Mike died beloved of his wife of 17 years, three children, two brothers, and a sister. Some still misunderstood him. Yet those who knew him best will always think of him as his nation's faithful and fruitful servant, but God's first.

James Piereson was executive director of the John M. Olin Foundation from 1985 to 2005. He is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. This tribute is adapted from a eulogy he delivered at funeral services for Michael Joyce on March 4 in Port Washington, Wisconsin.