(*Editor's Note: this story featuring Amo Houghton is the first of a two-part Q&A.)
CORNING - I was recently given the opportunity to sit down and chat with Amory Houghton Jr.
I naturally jumped at the chance.
"Amo" as he is known, just turned 91 years of age in August, but those familiar with the former Chairman and CEO of Corning Incorporated and the nine-term Congressman are very aware - he still has his finger on the pulse of this area - and the country.
My real desire to speak with Amo came after The Leader printed his Letters to the Editor before the most recent presidential election. The life-long Republican took some heat for his opinions and I wanted to pick his brain about everything from changes to the Corning landscape, to our current 45th President.
Here is some of our conversation:
Q: How is your health?
Amo: I'm fine. I really am.
For a 91-year-old, I'm not bad - knock on wood.
Q: How often do you get back to Corning and what keeps bringing you back?
Amo: I try to get back to Corning every two or three months. I love this place. I totally identify with this community.
I was born here. I went to school here. My kids were born here, except for one.
My friends are here. I don’t know as many people at the Glass Works as I used to, but that’s natural. Youth comes along.
It'd be terrible to have a management committee of 90-year-olds, wouldn’t it?
Q: What do you think of the changes to Corning, especially along the Denison Parkway corridor?
Amo: I’m not a wise man on this thing, but I’ll tell you my impression - Corning is a fresh place.
You drive down the streets - the houses are painted, there’s activity. You pick up the paper and volunteer groups are working.
You know something is happening with the old Corning Hospital lot.
I’m right down the street from the old CFA and that’s turned into a pretty successful residential community. It’s a wonderful place.
Corning is a containable place. It’s not sprawled all over so you can’t put your arms around it.
Obviously, I’m biased, but Corning to me is the perfect town.
I’ve always felt that Corning was a microcosm of what some of the big industrial cities are.
Corning has manufacturing, it has selling, administration, education, art, sports - it’s got it all here.
But it’s containable.
I’ve traveled all over the world in business and when I was in Congress and there’s no place like this spot.
Q: I enjoy when you submit Letters to the Editor. What does it take to inspire you to put together a Letter to the Editor?
Amo: (Laughing) I must have written 30 letters to the editor that I never had published.
(Returning to serious tone) I just hate to see people make fools of us and have a country that believes in the wrong things - not the things that I was brought up with.
I mean, here’s a president that dodged the draft for four or five times and somebody like myself, who was an idiot because I joined the Marine Corps.
Why did I do that? Why did he do what he did?
I don’t think that’s representative of what this country is about.
The people that I really look up to are people like Dwight Eisenhower and my father - people like that who were always looking on the positive side.
There’s holes in any issue, any country or any institution but this country is very special and I just have to get the gas off my stomach.
Q: Does it bother you to read some of the reactions your recent letters generated?
Amo: I’ve been around the block a long time and it doesn’t bother me a single bit.
I don’t care what I’m called. I know what I am and people who have dealt with me know what I am. They can absorb it or discard it. Who cares.
I’ve lived my life. The world doesn’t owe me a thing.
I come back to my refuge - it’s Corning.
Q: Can you still relate with the Republican party?
Amo: I’m going to be Republican until I die.
People say ‘you think a lot like a Democrat’, and I say I don’t care how I think - I know how I feel.
And frankly, the Republican party needs a lot of help.
I may not be a strong helper, but I am a helper. If I leave, and if people like me leave, there’s no one else there to fight the battle and bring us back towards to center.
That’s why I want to stay.
Q: Describe the changes you've seen with the Republican party.
Amo: My first Republican convention I went to was in 1948 - if you can believe that. That was a long time ago.
The convention in '48 was really split between the conservatives and the moderates. The moderates were for Governor (Thomas) Dewey. And the conservatives were folks like Robert Taft and General Wainwright and people like that.
Dewey had been working and corralling enough people, realizing there was no other way. This was not a dictatorship - this was a two-party system and we had to be strong.
The Dewey machine continued in 1952 with (Dwight) Eisenhower, and then he sort of went out of existence and there was no one to take his the place - nobody strong enough - or no group strong enough.
Gradually, it whittled away.
So now you could have somebody like Sarah Palin sticking her head up. That’s really insulting to this country.
I’m sure she’s a great citizen and loves this country, but she’s nobody’s presidential candidate.
But there was nobody there to stop it. There wasn’t a group that said 'Hey, we’ve been working on this thing for years - that’s a no go.'
So it just slipped through.
I’m afraid the same thing just happened with Mr. Trump.
(In Wednesday's edition of The Leader, the conversation continues with Amo, where he discusses the current state of politics, including Donald Trump's rise to the presidency.)