Rep. Tennyson Guyer (R-Ohio) is Mr. Main Street America, "born, bred and buttered," notes one of his press releases, in Findlay, Ohio. That's where (as Guyer like to point out) Norman Vincent Peale worked his first newspaper job, where Zane Grey played on the local baseball team, where the man who wrote the song "Down by the Old Mill Stream" lived.
Guyer makes no waves in Congress, where he quietly enjoys the affection of his constituents; he says he recently asked 115 of them if he should stand for reelection, and not one person in 11 countries said they could imagine a House of Representatives without him.
But if his presence goes unnoticed on Capitol Hill, put the 66-year-old Guyer on the lecture circuit and he's an unabashed "King of Corn," as the Dayton Journal Herald once called him, a one-man traveling show of one-liners and inspirational speeches that wows Rotarians, Lions Clubs, high school and college audiences. In fact, Guyer is the King of Commencement Speakers; he says Lowell Thomas once told him that with more than 1,000 commencement speeches to his credit, Guyer held the record among living Americans.
"When I first came to Congress," says Guyer, "I was told, 'Look, they don't want show-offs or jokes.' It's made me, well, not intimidated, but I almost resolved not to talk."
Which is something like Niagara Falls deciding to dry up. So Guyer keeps quiet in Washington ("I don't like to give political speeches") but gushes forth on the lecture circuit, delivering more than 100 speeches (most for free, some for as much as $1,000) each year with lines like these:
"My wife ought to be on a parole board -- she never lets anyone finish a sentence."
"I have nothing against lawyers, but I can't understand how a guy can write a 10,000-word document and call it a "brief.'"
"You know, it isn't often I get such a nice introduction. For example, the other night a fellow says, 'We now bring you the latest dope from Washington. . . . Mr. Guyer.'"
Guyer estimates he's delivered more than 10,000 speeches in all 50 states and 24 other countries. He's cut four records of his talks -- the liner notes on the album with the speech-titled "The Miracle Called America" observes that Guyer's "real-as-meals sincerity" helped earn him the nickname of "Ohio's Ambassador of Good Will." One woman died while he delivered a speech. Once a falling tree limb injured a mother holding her baby in the audience; at a high school commencement address 18 years later, a young mother identified herself as that baby.
You might think years of applause might make a Buckeye's head turn, but Guyer allows as how he's just in "the people business." He likes to impart an uplifting message in his talks. For profanity, "golly!" will have to do. And he and a Peony Queen runner-up, Mae Guyer, have been married 36 years. aShe has a small desk near his in his House office, and a couple of times a year she prints (at the Guyer's expense) a newsletter for some folks back home. It's called "Mae's Wash. Line," and it features news from the Big City with an illustration of some wash on the line. Now that's just about as real as measles.