DATE: Monday, September 22, 1997 TAG: 9709220087 SECTION: FRONT PAGE: A1 EDITION: FINAL SERIES: Decision 97: Election Coverage SOURCE: BY HOLLY A. HEYSER, STAFF WRITER LENGTH: 221 lines
Some people might look at John Hager and exclaim, Gee! How wonderful that he hasn't let his wheelchair prevent him from getting into politics.
They'd have it all wrong.
The freak case of polio that struck him in 1974 was the life-altering event that propelled him into politics in the first place.
Hager was a rising star at the American Tobacco Co. in Richmond - a guy who'd made executive vice president at 36 and was on the verge of moving to the company's New York offices - when he essentially caught the disease from his young son's vaccination.
The American Tobacco Co. responded by retiring him at first, then letting him come back. But he had to start over.
You'll be hard-pressed to hear Hager whine about it, but his wife of 27 years, Maggie, found the situation unfair. ``It was a test of endurance. It took 12 years to get back up,'' she said.
Hardest for her was watching her husband work in a position where he couldn't exercise his leadership abilities. ``It was like taking food from a person,'' she said.
He stuck with the company - in fact, he stayed a total of 34 years - but he started seeking outlets for his leadership skills elsewhere.
Republican Party leaders urged him to run for the House of Delegates, but that wasn't for him. ``I don't believe in starting at the top,'' he said. ``But I promised I would take the first step to get involved in politics on the bottom rung.''
He joined the city party committee, and so it went from there.
In 1975, he was a volunteer for Lt. Gov. John Dalton. In 1984, he was a delegate to the Republican National Convention. In 1994, he co-chaired Oliver North's Senate campaign.
And in 1995, a year after the American Tobacco Co. was sold and once again he was involuntarily retired, Hager began building his campaign for lieutenant governor.
Perhaps John Hager would have wound up in politics anyway. He is by all accounts a man who is driven to lead, passionate about his concerns and intensely hard-working. But he really hadn't given it any thought until his life hit that obstacle of polio and he shot around it, like a river gushing past a boulder and carving a new riverbed in the process.
Hager began showing signs of his dynamic and dedicated personality early in life.
Growing up in Durham, N.C., he had an immense collection of 32 stuffed animals, and each night before going to sleep, he would carefully arrange them around his bed.
At 9, he taught himself to type and started his own neighborhood newspaper, writing it, printing it and selling it.
And when he went to Purdue University, his wife said, ``He took 25 credit hours because he assumed that's what you do. You don't sit back.''
Said Hager: ``It never occurred to me to do anything but excel.''
In addition to his heavy course load, Hager joined the ROTC, became an officer in his fraternity and ran his own on-campus vending machine business. ``It was just a way to make some money,'' he said. He raked in about $1,000 a year - equal to more than $5,200 now.
``I just love to do things,'' he said. ``But I was not terribly political in those days.''
It's not that he had everything figured out. On Christmas break during his senior year, his father asked him what he was going to do with his life. ``I said, `I don't know.' ''
But shortly after that, he drove to Boston, to Harvard's business school, and asked for an application. ``I just decided that's what I was going to do,'' he said.
It was much like his decision to marry Maggie.
Hager met her in 1970 in Richmond at a gathering of friends where they were the only two people who weren't married; he was 33 and she was 29.
``He mentioned almost immediately that he thought we were soul-brother and -sister,'' she said.
``It is remarkable meeting you,'' he told her. ``All my life I've been waiting for someone like you.'' And within three months they announced their engagement.
One of his greatest influences at Harvard was George Doriot, a former French general and the founder of Massachusetts' high-tech corridor known as Route 128.
Doriot taught a class on manufacturing in which the homework was reading The Wall Street Journal daily, a business journal weekly and Scientific American monthly, and the test was being able to sell a product.
``It was real-world,'' Hager said. ``That was a maturing experience.'' (His group's project on plastics as building materials - ho-hum now, but ground-breaking in 1959 - was successful.)
After the Army and Harvard, Hager went to work for the American Tobacco Co. in Richmond. ``I started as a trainee and worked through all the jobs,'' he said. He made cigarettes, loaded boxcars, and worked as a salesman and chemist, among other things.
``In those days, the way you built general managers was to ground them in the whole business,'' he said. ``It works pretty well. It costs more and takes longer, but you end up with a better product.''
After his bout with polio, Hager moved into a different part of the company in which he got more involved in civic, community and government affairs as a representative of the American Tobacco Co.
All told, he has served on 32 boards and commissions - some he joined on behalf of the company, others, such as the Children's Hospital board in Richmond, he joined out of personal desire.
Jean Clary came to know him while they were both on the boards of the Virginia Health Care Foundation, Virginia Chamber of Commerce and the Urban Partnership for Virginia.
``He's an amazing person with a tremendous amount of energy,'' said Clary, who owns Century 21 Clary in Emporia and South Hill. ``He feels for others, and he's very committed.''
And not so bad at getting things done. Clary credits Hager with winning a vital $1 million grant for the Virginia Health Care Foundation, which helps provide a variety of health care services for uninsured people.
For Hager, it was a pursuit consistent with the Republican political philosophy that contends some services are better provided by the private or non-profit sector. The health foundation leverages government funding to win matching grants, bringing in more than $6 in grants for every $1 of public funding.
Hager's thinking is consistent with his upbringing by Republican parents from longtime Republican families in Ohio and Kentucky. ``I believe in personal freedom and individual responsibility, traditional families, hard work, and basic American values of free enterprise,'' he said.
Voters will have little more to judge him on than his campaign and his work in the Republican Party, though, because he's never held public office.
Hager is characterized as a man tolerant of differing viewpoints within the party, though his own points of view are quite strong.
For example, he believes abortion should be allowed only in cases of rape, incest or threat to the mother. ``My wife had a difficult birth with our second child and I almost lost her,'' he said. It wasn't a problem that abortion would have solved, but he nevertheless takes ``threat to the mother'' very seriously.
In 1992, he lost a bid to become chairman of the Virginia Republican Party to Richmond lawyer Patrick McSweeney, who took a hard-line stand against abortion.
During his campaign, Hager has made several big headlines. Once was after he said in a Sept. 6 radio program that he favors ending affirmative action programs, as Californians have voted to do.
Later that week, he explained his position. ``I'm for equal opportunity. I'm opposed to discrimination,'' he said, noting that he has been discriminated against numerous times because of his disability.
But he thinks efforts to combat discrimination should be voluntary, not government-mandated. ``I've seen remarkable changes (in workplace diversity). Some of it was accomplished with government programs, but most of it was accomplished with the leadership of individuals.''
Hager made even bigger headlines over his testimony in a deposition concerning a 1972 memo about how to increase nicotine levels in cigarettes - a touchy subject as cigarette makers are defending themselves against claims that they made tobacco more addictive. Hager explained his memo was a response to a theoretical question asking how nicotine could be changed in cigarettes.
``It's outrageous,'' he said, ``that we're talking about a quick note dashed off to my boss 25 years ago when we should be talking about cutting the tax on cars and trucks, and which candidate has a solid education plan.'' ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
BETH BERGMAN, The Virginian-Pilot
John H. Hager
Born: Born Aug. 28, 1936, in Durham, N.C.
Family: Wife of 27 years, Maggie, active in federal, state and
local disability policy issues; sons Jack, 23, sales engineer in
Richmond; Henry, 19, sophomore at Wake Forest University.
Church: Ruling Elder at First Presbyterian, Richmond.
Public service: Children's Hospital in Richmond, president;
Virginia Health Care Foundation, chairman; Virginia Chamber of
Commerce, director; Richmond Convention and Visitors Bureau,
chairman; U.S. Olympic Committee, Virginia member.
Work: Spent entire career from college to retirement in 1994 at
the American Tobacco Co. in Richmond. Was senior vice president of
leaf and specialty products when he retired.
Military: U.S. Army, 2nd lieutenant Ordnance Corps, 1960-61.
U.S. Army Reserve, captain, 1961-68.
Education: Purdue University, bachelor's degree in mechanical
engineering, 1958; Harvard University, master's in business
Public office: None, though he has held numerous state, regional
and local positions within the Republican Party: treasurer,
Republican Party of Virginia; State Central Committee member; North
for Senate campaign co-chairman, 1994; national convention delegate,
Priorities if elected:
Improve education by encouraging competition in the form of
charter schools, tuition vouchers and school choice.
Defend Virginia's traditional industries like tobacco, coal and
defense, while promoting new alternatives.
Promises to serve full time, though lieutenant governor is a
Past performance and positions
Abortion: Against, except in cases of rape, incest and when the
mother's life is in danger. Favors parental consent.
Gun control: Supports Second Amendment rights.
Affirmative action: Opposes government-mandated affirmative
Education: Supports charter schools, trying merit pay, and
providing a $150 tax credit for purchase of educational technology
for the home; supports Gilmore's plan to hire 4,000 more teachers
for public schools.
Taxes: Supports Jim Gilmore's proposal to phase out the personal
property tax and has pledged not to support tax increases if
Death penalty: Supports.
Crime: Supports parole abolition, truth-in-sentencing and
juvenile justice reforms that have taken place in past four years.
Believes in community-based crime-prevention programs.
Tobacco: Believes farmers need a voice in final settlement of
tobacco lawsuits; supports efforts to enforce laws forbidding sale
of tobacco to minors.
Major contributors ($10,000 or more):
Beverly W. Armstrong, vice chairman of CCA, a Richmond holding
company; Circuit City Stores Inc.; Jacob Associates, grocery stores;
Dominion Resources Inc., electric utility; Frank Genovese, general
contractor; William H. Goodwin Jr., chairman of CCA, a Richmond
holding company; Bruce C. Gottwald Sr., owner of Ethyl Corp.; LHN
Associates, a Richmond limited partnership; G. Gilmer Minor III,
medical supplies; Republican National Committee; Matthew Thompson,
Richmond investment firm of Thompson, Siegel and Walmsly; James E.
Ukrop, grocery stores; Hays T. Watkins, railroads.
Total raised as of Aug. 31: $1.3 million.
Campaign headquarters: (804) 355-9797.
Web site: www.hagernet.com KEYWORDS: CANDIDATE VIRGINIA LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR RACE PROFILE
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