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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Edmund and Beatriz Schweitzer: Mattis an excellent choice for first Foley Award

By Edmund and Beatriz Schweitzer

Tom Foley is “one of the finest citizens our state ever produced” and a “quintessential American patriot.” Those are just a few words Gen. James Mattis, another fine citizen our state produced, used to describe the legendary former speaker of the House last week in Spokane while receiving the first-ever Thomas S. Foley Award for Distinguished Public Service.

The Foley Award is presented to individuals who have demonstrated integrity, courage, and a commitment to democratic values in public service. It represents an opportunity to recognize public service achievements with a lasting impact – achievements that will help sustain our democratic institutions for future generations.

Foley was known as a tireless champion for democratic values and public service. As he once said, during his first floor speech as Congressman, “public service is a free gift of a free people and a challenge for all of us in public life to do what we can to make our service useful for those who have sent us here.’’

Many referred to Foley as the “Gentleman Speaker.” Former President George H.W. Bush famously stated that, “Tom Foley represented the very best in public service and our political system.”

Foley aspired to uphold decency and integrity for the institution he served for over three decades. He did so even when doing this put him at odds with his own party or some of his constituents.

It’s therefore fitting that Mattis – a man who has dedicated his life to protecting and defending the values of our democracy and constitution – should be the first recipient of the award bearing Foley’s name.

Mattis is a decorated military leader, and former secretary of defense, who spent five decades in service to our nation. He enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in 1969. Throughout his impressive career, which included tours commanding forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, he earned a reputation for tactical brilliance and humility.

Many of us know about the general’s instrumental military leadership and accomplishments. But what truly stands out to us is his actions off the battlefield as a leading voice for unity and commonsense in our domestic affairs.

True public servants are those rare individuals who can rise above the petty debates that often rule the day. It’s easier to cater humanity’s worst political instincts than appeal to a higher purpose. Sadly, it’s easier to tear somebody down than to build somebody up. But public service is not about doing what is easy; it is about doing what is right.

When we look at Mattis’ distinguished career, there are many moments that demonstrate his spirit of public service. But what stands out is the leadership he showed our country in the aftermath of civil unrest seen in May 2020.

It was a time when our country felt divided, angry and hopeless. Many of our political leaders used their platform to inflame tensions. Countless others remained silent and said nothing at all. Mattis took a different approach, speaking out in support of national unity and civil liberties in his typical directness.

He firmly stood up to his former boss, the president of the United States. “He was the first president in his lifetime who did not try to unite the American people – rather tried to divide us,” Mattis said. “That we were witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. The consequences of this effort, without mature leadership.”

During those fateful days, Mattis used his platform in a way that would have certainly made Speaker Foley proud. He demonstrated integrity, courage and an unwavering commitment to democratic values. He reminded us the importance of individual rights and living up to our values–our values as people and our values as a nation.

It would have been easy to fall in line, remain silent as others did, or hide in the shadows. Yet Mattis felt compelled to take a different path. The public service path. He went back to first principles, fell back on the oath he took some 50 years ago when he joined the military to support and defend the Constitution and its rights for all of his fellow citizens.

This kind of leadership is one of the many reasons Gen. James Mattis was honored in Spokane last week – and we were inspired and delighted to be part of it.

Edmund O. Schweitzer III is president of Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and Beatriz Schweitzer is director of community outreach for the company.