Verne W. Newton who passed away, 73 years young on September 29, 2017.
Verne was one of a kind: brilliant, iconoclastic, higher-cause driven, irreverently honest, Mark Twain hilarious, self-deprecating, a fearless co-conspirator in making a difference, and a profoundly devoted friend. Fiercely independent and always marching to his own drummer, Verne was the refreshing antidote to conventional thinking and doing, with special appreciation of the absurdities and conundrums of life. Who else, in 1965 at the age of 21 would journey “solo”, overland, across borders from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa, with virtually no money in his pocket? Who else would have published a Washington Post Op-Ed piece on the positive correlation between the Beaujolais Nouveau crop in France with the winner of US Presidential elections. He was a talented athlete in his younger days. As a friend (and partner in practical jokes), Verne had a zest for sports as a metaphor for Life with all its human challenges, epiphanies, craziness, failures and glories. His uncommon focus, energy and spirit burned within him as an amateur hockey player in small-town Iowa and propelled him to St Cloud State University, Minnesota. He studied history at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University when America was wandering blindly into war in Vietnam. After hockey and baseball injuries to his knees, Verne shifted his brilliant talents, incisive and disciplined mind, and love for our country into politics as a “contact sport”.
Verne was fiercely passionate about history, its lessons, and leaders of change in America and the world. He was an early voice in New York’s anti-war and progressive political movements while working with Howard Samuels, Adam Walinsky, Harold Ickes and others. This led to his involvement in the presidential campaigns of Senators Eugene McCarthy, Robert Kennedy and George McGovern. Jimmy Carter’s victory brought Verne to Washington, DC as a key deputy to former Ohio Governor John Gilligan, the new Administrator at USAID, where he took up new challenges in foreign assistance and global development. He then began research on President Franklin Roosevelt’s leadership team during the New Deal and World War II, and post-war Soviet/US Cold War espionage. As Director of the FDR Presidential Library in Hyde Park, Verne hosted, among others, the visits of former President Clinton and Soviet PM Gorbachev, and a history-making summit on Bosnia with Russian President Boris Yeltsin. At Marist University, he was Director of the James A. Cannavino Library (and Adjunct Professor of History and Political Science) where he pioneered the archive’s leading edge digital transformation.
His work has appeared in the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Wall Street Journal, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Los Angeles Times, the Nation, among other US and European publications. His final unfinished project was a trailblazing new book: “The Far Side of Glory: Stalin, Churchill, Roosevelt and the War on the Eastern Front”, bringing new insights into the roles of these WWII national leaders and new interpretations/narratives of pivotal wartime decisions and their longer-term consequences.
Verne delighted in his chosen role as “Uncle Verne” to the children of his closest friends. He left us too early, and we carry his spirit with us into a future that he worked tirelessly to help effect. He is survived by his sister, Sandra Newton of Iowa; his brother, Robert Newton; Fouzia Bassime Newton, lifetime devoted companion and her two boys Amir and Aimanhis.