Part II: The remarkable Dwight Ink

18 Apr

03-25-13 DWIGHT 173F9811

GovernmentExecutive.com calls Dwight Ink the “silent leader.” In a story posted on Jan. 13, 2010, William D. Eggers and John O’Leary write:

“History tends to adore the person at the helm, the president who calls the shots from the Oval Office. Overlooked are the bureaucrats who actually carry out the commands. Out of the limelight, Dwight Ink served seven consecutive presidents, from Dwight Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan. Now retired, this unassuming bureaucrat was often the one doing the heavy lifting. In a story that reads like the antithesis of Hurricane Katrina, Ink led a swift and efficient reconstruction effort [in Alaska]. The 1964 Alaskan Earthquake is largely forgotten today because of Ink’s leadership.”

This is Part II of our visit with Mr. Ink (’47 government) at his home in Leesburg, Va.

On the presidents:

  • I had a unique opportunity serving in leadership roles with seven different presidents.
  • I respected Eisenhower the most of any that I served. I respected Kennedy the least, but I found him the most exciting. But, gee, I had so much fun under all of them. Except Nixon’s second term.
  • I had the most impact under Nixon. His first term was the best we ever had under an operations standpoint, but that turned around in the ’72 election. It was the Jekyll and Hyde presidency.
  • I was the senior adviser to the Reagan transition team. I helped shut down the Anti-poverty Agency – I never expected that assignment. It was the hottest political issue [of the day]. Ted Kennedy led the opposition. [But together we worked to] persuade Congress to support the President to close it down and minimize difficulty for poor people.
  • [At a classified briefing on the nuclear arms race I found myself] alone with president [Dwight Eisenhower]. I was so stunned [I couldn’t remember anything]. We talked about football…ISU vs Kansas. He relaxed me. Briefing the president, for a career person, was quite a thrill.

On the Limited Nuclear Test Ban following WWII:

  • We saw horrible destruction from the bomb. [It was] indescribable fury. I was terribly concerned about stopping the nuclear arms race. They can absolutely destroy civilization. It was THE most important security issue of the day.

On the rebuilding of Alaska after the earthquake of 1964:

  • 55,000 square miles of surface rose or dropped at least five feet [in] Anchorage, Kodiak, Homer, Valdez…two thirds of Alaska where the population was. When we got up there we couldn’t find an engineer who thought we would rebuild enough in the first season to save the state. That would have been economic disaster. I really spent horrible nights trying to figure out what to do when everyone said it was impossible. We could not succeed using “normal” federal processes and procedures. We’d lose the state. They gave me all kinds of freedom to innovate. An Anchorage Times editorial headline called it “Government at its best.” The federal people were heroes in Alaska.

In October 2011, Government Executive magazine named Ink one of the 20 “All-time Greatest Feds.” Joining him on the list were Theodore Roosevelt and James Web, manager of the moon landing. Here’s his reaction:

  • It was nice for my ego. But I kept thinking of others who were better qualified. [My wife] Donna said, “Just enjoy it.”

Dwight and Donna moved to Leesburg, Va., 10 years ago. At age 90, his eyesight is failing, and he’s working to finish his memoirs. Here’s Dwight on retirement:

  • I retired with the federal government when Reagan left office. I semi-retired at age 70 but worked part time until three months ago. [He is president emeritus of the Institute of Public Administration.] When I hit 90 I decided to almost – but not quite totally – retire. My wife says at 90 I should slow down.
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One Response to “Part II: The remarkable Dwight Ink”

  1. fRED a. kAHN November 6, 2013 at 5:13 am #

    i served with Dwight Ink on the National Council of the American Society for Public Adminitration. I am the young man then in l956 came forth with the proposal of presidential debates supported personally by Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt on the democraticside, and Governor TYheodore Mc Keldin, on the Republican side,. In 20 12. i was the topic in the Washingto Post column,articles in the Washington Jewish Week, the Gazettte, The Washingtonian, the Bethesda Magazine, Huffington Post, HispaniC nOTICIAS, nEWSDAY, AND WAS ON NATIUONAL PUBLIC RADIO AND wusa tv .

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