Commentary: OSU’s Gordon Gee Joins Special Club : The Whoppers

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Ray Bliss, E. Gordon Gee - Members of the "Whoppers" Club(Photo: file)
Ray Bliss, E. Gordon Gee - Members of the "Whoppers" Club(Photo: file)

When Gordon Gee announced his retirement as Ohio State president, Gee joined a special club.

Gee joined the Whoppers.

They’re an unofficial association of high-profile public figures whose public reasons for quitting don’t match the real reasons. Members are diverse. There’s the the high-voltage, bow-tie wearing Gee. And there’s Akron’s “Mr. Republican,” the late Ray Bliss.

Bliss, who died in 1981, was the low-key political mechanic who worked his way up from errand boy in a mayor’s race to Republican national chairman.
He qualified for the Whoppers way back in 1969 when he retired as national chairman in an exchange of letters with President Richard M. Nixon.

Whoppers usually have been successful. Nobody was better at electing mayors, governors and presidents than Bliss. Few university presidents match Gee at raising money and academic standards.

Gee announced his retirement June 4 after a family vacation. It was time, he said, to “turn over the reins of leadership to allow the seeds that we have planted to grow.” He didn’t mention the wisecracks that landed him in trouble with university trustees and just maybe prompted his departure.

Last December Gee took verbal jabs – meant to be funny – at Catholics, Notre Dame and the Southeastern Conference. They were the latest in attempts at humor that had slighted the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Polish Army and, back in 1992, Gov. George Voinvoich. Gee called him a “damn dummy.”

This time OSU’s trustees threatened to fire Gee for any more verbal missteps.

Gee insisted that his latest wisecracks “didn’t play a deciding role” in his departure. He also wants to spend more time with twin granddaughters and a California girlfriend.

Any gap between the announced and real reasons for Gee’s departure is tiny compared to the gulf between Bliss’s real reasons for quitting as GOP chairman and the compliments in the letter exchange with Nixon.

Bliss wrote that he appreciated Nixon’s suggestion at a New York hotel meeting that he remain as chairman. But after much thought he was returning to his Akron insurance business.

Nixon, elected president in 1968 with Bliss’ help, sent his “deep regret.” Republicans never had a better chairman, Nixon gushed.

Actually, Nixon had been trying to dump Bliss for months. He was supposed to fire Bliss at the hotel meeting but couldn’t do it. Instead, he installed Murray Chotiner, a political hatchet man at the Republican National Committee, to make Bliss’ live miserable.

Nixon always thought people were out to get him. Bliss qualified because in 1966 he refused to have the national committee pay for airplanes to fly Nixon around as he campaigned for Republican candidates. Also, Nixon wanted a “speaking” chairman, not a nuts bolts man like Bliss.

The Whoppers leave with their dignity intact. Their tall tales also keep organizations running smoothly. That worked for Republicans until 1974 when the Watergate scandal forced Nixon to resign.

For Gee and Ohio State, time will tell.