According to Jayne Barnard, James Cutler Professor of Law emeritus and co-chair of the College of William and Mary’s 100 Years Anniversary Committee, which organizes the celebration of 100 years of coeducation at the university, Kay Coles James, president of the Heritage Foundation who was a guest speaker at a public forum at the college this week, is one of the most influential women in the country.
James recently participated in a conversation with Christine Nemachek, associate professor of government and director of William and Mary’s Center for Liberal Arts, at a public forum in the Raymond A. Mason School of Business.
Professor Barnard noted, “The Heritage Foundation has been a key player in judicial appointments, regulatory reform, defense policy, tax reform and more.”
The Heritage Foundation is one of the most prestigious conservative think tanks in Washington, and the fountainhead of government policies over many decades. James, as president, brought to her position a mile-long list of accomplishments. Among them, leadership roles formulating public policy on state and federal levels. She served in the administration of President George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush. In Virginia, she served in the administration of Gov. George Allen.
James’ interaction with Nemchek on the stage of the ornate Brinkley Commons Hall reminded me of the stage presence of Josephine Baker, the renowned entertainer and activist. There is a remarkable physical resemblance between the two of them. And like Baker, James’ presence fills the stage.
James, in answering questions posed by Nemachek and students, projected qualities that helped her attain high positions in government, academia and nonprofits. Her eloquence and down-to-earth approach were impressive.
I asked James, what made her into a conservative?
“My grandmother,” she said. “I was always a conservative. It is not something I became. I lived my life based on basic values and principals that define the conservative movement without even realizing it. In my professional life, I consider Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister, as my role model. In personal life, I call Joyce Ranson and Beth York, writers, my role models. They are two incredible women I named my daughter after.”
But it was her mother who served as a real life role model. “Her true grit and determination was what I live by,” James said.
I asked James how she managed to break into a world dominated by men?
“Showed up, worked hard and never assumed that the deck was stacked against me, even though it may have been. Of course there was race, gender and political beliefs, but at the end of the day, it was my own insecurities.”
As president of the Heritage Foundation, James plays a pivotal role in shaping the political landscape in our country.
“My role is to recognize that the Heritage Foundation is both a masterpiece and a work in progress,” she said. “To be a good steward of the organization, I have to see to it that we are promoting freedom, opportunity, strong national defense and civil society. I must bring together the competing voices without ever compromising on my values. My goal is to build a generation of solutionists.”
Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” the compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at Bruton Parish Shop and Amzon.com.