Archive for December, 2019

Best Seat in the House

Thursday, December 19th, 2019

Former Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, The Honorable John Hager, talks about his career in politics.  The Best Seat in the House is the title of his 2017 book.

John Henry Hager is an American entrepreneur and politician who served as the chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, assistant secretary of the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, and the director of Virginia’s homeland security under Governors Jim Gilmore and Mark Warner.  The podcast of the meeting, that was moderated by SSV Past President Bob McGrath, is below.

John Hager was born in Durham, North Carolina. He started a neighborhood newspaper in 1945. While an undergraduate at Purdue University he ran a vending machine business, was an active member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, and was a member of ROTC. One term, his course load was 25 credit hours – about two thirds more than normal. He graduated with a BSME (mechanical engineering) in 1958. Hager earned his MBA at Harvard and subsequently served in the United States Army, rising to the rank of captain.

In 1973 he contracted polio when his son was vaccinated for the disease with live virus vaccine. As a result, he uses a non-motorized wheelchair for daily ambulation – and competes in wheelchair races.

After his active duty military service, Hager began work for the American Tobacco Company in Richmond, Virginia. The company retired him after his bout with polio, but he returned – beginning at the bottom again. At American Tobacco, he served as a government affairs representative. Hager was forcibly retired from the American Tobacco Company after the company’s sale in 1994.

Hager is married to Margaret Dickinson “Maggie” Chase and they have two sons, John and Henry. Henry is married to former President George W. Bush’s daughter, Jenna.

Program Summary

The Honorable John Hager, former Lt. Gov. of Virginia, author of The Best Seat in the House spoke about his political and personal experiences as a man in the political area confined to a wheelchair. He began his talk by explaining why he chose to write a book. He gave three reasons. The first is to record history. Encouraged by Larry Sabato and others who felt his experiences were worth recording. And secondly was to tell stories. “People love to hear stories,” he said and then shared many of his. Finally to inspire. John Hager’s experiences are inspirational. As he said his life transcends politics and hopefully can inspire all.

After being ill for several months in 1973, his polio was finally diagnosed and Jonas Salk told him, “The good news is that you have polio.” From then on he made the commitment to be a full participant in life and not just an observer. He looked at his wheelchair as enabling, not disabling and continued his work at American Tobacco, as well as participating in church, community and political organizations.

Politics was new to him and became a volunteer and delegate to the 1980 Detroit convention before deciding to run for political office. After American Tobacco was sold his political interests became a real job rather than volunteer work. Eventually he was Virginia’s Lt. Governor under Jim Gilmore and worked for Homeland Security in the Bush Administration.

His final comments addressed politics today. Bottom line is that from his time politics has changed. He feels that today’s partisanship is based on the influence of the internet, social media, gerrymandering, huge influx of money, and biased media. Politicians no longer work together with members of the other party.