For me, this story had its beginning in a Denver hotel room in August of 1983 where I was watching TV. There are very few places more empty, I have learned, than a hotel room for one. But keeping the TV on can sometimes help. That particular night in Denver, ABC News carried a terrific story about a kids summer camp in Georgia where all the campers were kids with cancer. It was such a terrific story that after the news I got on the phone, found out the mailing address of Camp Sunshine and sent a check.
In September of 1985, two years later, there was a wire-service story that gave a little of the history of Camp Sunshine. The camp was started in 1983 by a young pediatric nurse named Dorothy whose husband both encouraged her and raised a lot of the money for the camp, as well as serving as a volunteer counselor. This past summer, largely through this couple's efforts, was something special for 110 kids with a special problem called cancer. I later learned that before cooperating with that 1983 ABC story about the camp, Dorothy's husband had insisted on one condition to which ABC agreed: that he not be mentioned in the story. The name of the pediatric nurse who started Camp Sunshine in Gwinnett County is Dorothy Henry Jordan; her husband's name is Hamilton Jordan, the most creatively successful national strategist in the Democratic party in the last quarter century.
Since 1932, only two men -- Robert Kennedy and Hamilton Jordan -- have organized and managed Democratic presidential campaigns that successfully won the White House from the Republicans. And most analysts would agree that, unlike Jordan in 1976, Bob Kennedy had as his 1960 candidate a genuine thoroughbred, a Natural.
But Jordan's Washington years were not happy ones. Having masterminded Jimmy Carter's anti- establishment victory, Jordan made the mistake, common to so many of his Carter colleagues, of failing to understand that the vanquished Washington political establishment mostly wanted to get along with the White House. Worse than that, Rep. Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, who became speaker of the House the same month Carter entered the oval office and who passionately wanted to help a Democratic president succeed, was gratuitously snubbed by the Georgians and Jordan. There were rumors and reports of rumors of hi-jinks in Washington taverns that seemed to culminate in an accusation by two criminal defendants that Jordan had used cocaine. A specially appointed prosecutor found the charges to be baseless, but the investigation and the notoriety did not improve Jordan's effectiveness.
In 1981, Jordan left Washington. That was unusual; a lot of Washington political people are reminiscent of James Michener's description of the congregationalists in Hawaii, that they came to do good, but did very, very well. Often in Washington, the very same people who were committed to changing the world, just a year earlier, are now found as hired ambassadors for, at a handsome retainer, an industrial polluter or an oppressive foreign government. But not Jordan. He went back home where he helped his wife make a camp where kids with cancer could be kids. He did good.
To those who knew him better, Camp Sunshine may not have been as large a surprise as it was to those of us who get out information through the tabloids. After all, when he was 22 and the United States was at war in Vietnam, Jordan went to Vietnam as a civilian volunteer where he worked with Vietnamese children for the International Volunteer Service. This, it must be remembered, was at a time when so many of the tough-minded young men, now making tough- minded policy for the Reagan administration, were viewing Vietnam from the bunkers of graduate school campuses where they were regularly terrorizing the communists by hurling term papers and explosive monographs on the pages of Commentary and similarly tough-minded journals.
This fall, Hamilton Jordan came back to Washington to be treated for cancer of the lymph system. Just before Christmas, he told a breakfast meeting of reporters that the treatments had worked and that he and Dorothy were going back to Georgia where he would run for the Senate in 1986. Among others he must face in the primary is the able Atlanta congressman Democrat Wyche Fowler. And the incumbent Republican Mack Mattingly has already amassed a bulging campaign treasury while ruffling few feathers. But Jordan has faced long odds before and never been daunted by them. It's always difficult for the campaign strategist to make the change to candidate, as individuals from Ted Sorensen to Pierre Salinger to Alexander Haig have painfully learned. But Jordan has beaten long odds before; he ought not to be taken lightly.