One of the finest leaders and human beings I have ever known was Robert E. Hansen (Bob). Bob was a World War II veteran who passed away just about a year ago.
Recently, I received a call from his widow Sue asking me to assist her in drafting some appropriate remarks for her to use at next month’s national Veterans of Foreign Wars convention where Bob will be honored. The convention is honoring him for his life-long dedication to serving his country, veterans and the VFW. Throughout the years, Bob held many leadership positions in the VFW organization including serving as VFW National Commander during the Kennedy administration.
Yes, Bob personally knew and worked with President John F. Kennedy–even used to ride alone in the limo with him. In fact, he once showed me a cassette that contained a personalized message from President Kennedy thanking the VFW for their support and expressing his gratitude to Bob for his counsel and advice. The tape now resides at the Kennedy Presidential Library.
In addition to the historically significant Kennedy tape, there was Bob’s wall. Hung on a wall in his home were signed photographs of every major world leader, president and governor that he had worked with throughout his life. Everyone who was anyone in military or political world history during Bob’s lifetime was on that wall. It was impressive to say the least!
At that time, I worked for the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State. After seeing Bob’s wall, I returned to work and enthusiastically described the display to Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. I told him all about the signed pictures of the famous important world and national leaders, both military and civilian, from World War II to the present that were on that wall including Admiral John S. McCain, General Douglas MacArthur, French President Charles de Gaulle and Presidents Harry S. Truman, Dwight D Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy just to name a very few. It was a big wall!
Secretary Ritchie, who I had introduced to Bob, really wanted to see that wall. So, I arranged a meeting. About the time the meeting was to take place, Bob and his wife Sue heard a knock at their door. They opened it to find Secretary of State Ritchie standing there with a signed picture of himself. He then asked, “Can I be on your wall?” I am pleased to say both Bob and Sue got a real good laugh out of it and the Secretary got to join the famous on Bob’s wall. It is important to note that since his death all of the photographs and artifacts from his “wall room” have be donated to an appropriate historical society.
Bob did not just casually meet these world leaders and get a signed photo. He considered them friends and corresponded with many of them throughout the years. His stories of the events of his life were always entertaining and often historically significant. Stories such as when he had an audience with French President Charles de Gaulle that included a reception in Bob’s honor at the Palace of Versailles. Then, there was the time he visited and had lunch with President and Madam Chiang Kai-shek in Taipei, Taiwan.
Bob’s long and eventful life was never an easy road. As a very young boy he and his only brother lost their mother to cancer. This tragedy only served to strengthen the two boys’ bond. Both brothers answered their country’s call and served in the military during World War II. Bob alone returned home. Harry was killed on the island of Okinawa during the last few weeks of the war. To his dying day Bob grieved for his lost brother. His local VFW post was renamed to honor his dead brother and is now called the Gallager-Hansen Post.
I think surviving so many devastating personal hardships is what made him into the man I so greatly admired. Bob was a forceful combination of strong personal ethics, very high intelligence and amazing people skills. He could read people instantly and accurately. This talent, more than any other, is what I believe made him so successful as a public servant.
For all of his success he remained a humble Christian Minnesota lad. In his dealings with people he would always try to error on the side of kindness and mercy, but he didn’t mince words or avoid making hard decisions when the situation called for it. I have known many people who thought they were great political strategists, none could compare to Robert E. Hansen.
Bob was walking talking history and his home a museum. He had kept records of everything and had letters, documents, mementos and pictures from the famous and powerful people that he known. During one visit I told him that he should really get all of his papers organized so that their history would not be lost. He handed me a big thick file and told me to do it. So I did.
There was no way to make any organized sense out of the mish-mash of notes and documents in that file. I chose to take a different approach and drafted all of those facts, figures and quotes into a comprehensive biography draft. Once I completed the draft of his military, professional and volunteer careers, his wife Sue added the personal family information. Bob reviewed our transcript many times, to make sure that everything was absolutely accurate.
“More Than I Ever Dreamed” a biography of Robert E. Hansen VFW Past Commander-in-Chief was self-published by the Hansen’s. It was a small publishing run of several hundred copies and by the time we finished editing the book most of the copies were pre-sold. It was fun to see the books for sale in places like the Minnesota History Center and Science Museum. Currently, there are 4 or 5 copies still available on Amazon.com.
Sue and I have received many compliments about our biography of Bob.The greatest compliment I will ever receive was the most recent–from Sue. On a day when her grief for her lost husband was a bit overshadowing, Sue got out the book and read the whole thing, “It felt like he was sitting there with me, telling me his stories again. It brought me much comfort.” That alone is worth all of the volunteer hours that I spent working on keeping the stories of Robert E. Hansen alive.
I miss Bob and cannot help but think how different politics would be today if there were more people with the moral strength of character of a Robert E. Hansen. Candidates who show respect to both adversary and supporter and put country before self …just saying.