What I Learned From Vernon Jordan

In a reflective piece for The Wall Street Journal, 1979-80 Luce Scholar and Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot pays tribute to civil-rights leader Vernon Jordan Jr., who passed away on March 1. Gigot describes how, as a member of the Luce Scholars selection committee, Jordan played a critical role in sending the journalist on a path that would drive the course of his early career.

After an interview with Jordan, Gigot was eventually selected to the 1979-80 cohort and spent his Luce year in Hong Kong working for the Far Eastern Economic Review, traveling across and writing about Asia. Shortly after, he would again be based in Hong Kong, this time as The Wall Street Journal’s Asia correspondent.

Grateful for this encounter with Jordan, Gigot describes the leader and advocate as “too wise, and pragmatic, to let political ideology interfere with friendship or mentoring young people. He quietly advised countless men and women, regardless of race or politics, as they navigated careers and sought to influence America’s political and social debates.”

Everyone has hinge moments that make all the difference in life, and one of mine came with an assist and a lesson from Vernon Jordan Jr. The civil-rights leader and pragmatic liberal, who died Monday at age 85, played an unlikely role in promoting a young conservative journalist’s career.

In 1979 I was a junior editor at National Review magazine in New York. How junior? One of my jobs was answering William F. Buckley Jr. ’s mail. NR at the time was a wonderful intellectual school, but I longed to see and understand more of the world. I didn’t think I had standing to comment about matters I knew too little about.

So I applied for the Henry Luce Foundation’s Luce Scholars program, which at the time sent 15 young people to Asia for a year to work along the lines of their career interests. The final vetting included 30-minute interviews with each of five judges. One of them was Jordan, who was already famous for his civil-rights advocacy and political prominence.

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