JAMES PICKETT WESBERRY Jr >>>> PERSONAL WEBSITE

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1958 - 1968

Activities in the Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees)

1958 - 1968

One of the most important and rewarding things I did when I was young was to join the Atlanta Junior Chamber of Commerce a chapter of the Georgia and US Jaycees. I joined in the late 1950s when I was still working for the Mount & Carter CPA firm. Of course I was very busy then and was not too active until later on after I opened my own CPA firm.

This great organization, originally for young men under 35, was not really a Chamber of Commerce, but was dedicated to the development of leadership and personal confidence among its young aspiring members through performing various activities of community service. I joined because I was anxious to get ahead in the world and this was the only organization specifically for young men who wanted to become executives or leaders. I believe I learned more from my service in the Jaycees than I did in college especially because the learning was obtained through action carrying out specific tasks and duties.

At one of the first meetings I attended I sat beside a very personable young man a few years older than I named Hugh Cates.  He asked if I were the son of the well-known Baptist minister. When I said yes Hugh immediately told me that he was chairman of the Jaycee religious activities committee and invited me to become a member of this committee. Of course I couldn't say no so that was my first committee assignment in the Jaycees. Later on in only a few weeks Hugh called me up on the telephone saying that he had some other important things to do and asking me if I would become chairman of the committee. Since I knew very little about the committee’s activities and duties he promised to help me and advise me as to what my duties were.

My Jaycee career’s first project was a “Keep Christ in Christmas” project where I sent letters to several hundred local businesses urging them not to use the word “Xmas” in their advertising but the full name of the holiday. I was pleasantly surprised that the number of very positive replies including many from quite successful Jewish storeowners in the Atlanta area. I finished up the year as chairman of the committee and to my surprise was elected to the Board of Directors of the Atlanta Jaycees.

After I opened my own CPA practice I had much more time and I soon became enmeshed in a number of different activities, in fact just about all the activities carried out by the very active Atlanta Chapter. Joe Sheehan who was in public relations at Retail Credit Company (now Equifax), one of Atlanta’s largest companies caught me after a regular meeting. Joe had been named chairman of the organizing committee for the 1961 Jaycee national convention to be hosted by the chapter. The hosting of the convention had been won after national competition among all US Jaycee chapters a few years earlier.

Atlanta has very good reputation as a convention city and this was a major national convention. Joe asked me if I would be treasurer of the convention working closely with him as chairman. He explained that this would involve four or five trips to Tulsa, Oklahoma with him to report to the national Jaycee executive committee and/or Board of Directors and some other trips, but mostly would involve handling the finances of the convention including the registration fees and all of the various expenses involved. I was honored and pleased that Joe thought of me as I had not known him very well prior to that. So I accepted and thus began my activities with the US Jaycees, little imagining where they would take me.

Meanwhile I also became active in the Georgia State Junior Chamber of Commerce. The US Jaycees in those days had a very active governmental affairs program offered by chapters in coordination with the state organizations most of which appointed a state governmental affairs chairman annually who promoted the program among the local chapters.

Mike Cheatham of the Coca-Cola Company was the state chairman for Georgia. He announced the first Georgia Jaycee Governmental Affairs conference to be held at the Center for Continuing Education of the University of Georgia in Athens Georgia. Because of my great interest in government and politics I was one of the first to register to attend and enjoyed the conference very much becoming friends with Mike as result. When the next Jaycee year started Mike recommended that I be the state chairman following in his footsteps. Needless to say I accepted this opportunity not realizing that I was becoming pretty covered up with activities in the Jaycees at the chapter level, the state level and the national level. But I was greatly enjoying it and getting valuable leadership experience.

The first step in preparing for the 1961 national convention was for our whole organization team to attend the 1960 national convention in St. Louis Missouri to watch and learn from the St. Louis Jaycees as they put on that convention. We were somewhat shocked at the enormity of the undertaking with thousands of Jaycees and wives from all the 50 states in attendance.  

I learned my first task was to prepare the budget for the upcoming convention and have it approved by the executive committee of the US Jaycees at its first meeting in Tulsa. I've always believed in delegating authority and as there were four main areas of activity involving financial matters for the convention I appointed four Assistant Treasurers, all CPAs, each one responsible for a specific area of operations. These were registration, meals, hotel accommodations, and entertainment.

I prepared a budget based on what I had learned in St. Louis and what we were planning to do. A pleasant surprise was its approval without debate by the executive committee after my presentation. Thereafter we spent the rest of the next nine months preparing for the convention and hosting it. It was a great success as had been expected enhancing Atlanta’s great reputation as a convention city. It also produced a good bit of revenue split equally between the Atlanta Chapter and the National Jaycee Organization.

Meanwhile as chairman of the State Governmental Affairs Committee I was urging the naming of chapter chairmen, starting up a monthly newsletter and planning the second Georgia Jaycee Governmental Affairs Conference. I worked out a deal for it to be held at the State Capitol in Atlanta in the House of Representatives Chamber on a January weekend when the House was not in session.  This, as I had hoped, attracted a great deal of interest and we quadrupled attendance over the first conference. With speakers from State and Local Governments it was a big success.

In fact the second conference was so successful that my Assistant State Chairman, Jim Hiers, had the brilliant idea of holding a similar conference in Washington DC with the Georgia congressional delegation. I was awestruck by this at first but thinking it over with my own experience in Washington it sounded like the fabulous idea that it turned out to be. I told him if he would be the principal organizer I would support him and we put it together quickly to be held in April 1961. We had the conference over a long weekend in Washington DC with the participants riding the all night train to Washington and back to save money. About 30 folks attended and they were extremely enthusiastic as most had never visited the Nation’s Capitol.

The Georgia Congressional Delegation collaborated with us in arranging various sessions and activities and this too turned out to be an extremely successful event. Our other activities throughout the year included the newsletter and promotion of the official Jaycee program involving encouragement for members to be active in civic and governmental affairs. I tried to attend all the quarterly Jaycee District meetings (composed of all chapters within each Congressional District) and in so doing did a lot of driving all over the State of Georgia in the late afternoons and nights to get to each meeting and back. A truly outstanding Jaycee named Doug Blankenship had been elected State Jaycee President and someone suggested we drive together. He did not like to drive and I did so I ended up as his driver over the year and naturally we became very close friends.

As result of attending the executive committee meetings with US Jaycees to report on the upcoming convention I met a Jaycee from Washington State named Woody Wayland who was the National Governmental Affairs Chairman and we became good friends. At the end of the year he recommended that I replace him in that post for the coming year and I was appointed by new President Bob Conger.

At the Georgia Jaycee State Convention I received an award as Outstanding State Jaycee Committee Chairman.  I was excited about serving as national chairman and this came about just as we were closing out and making a final report on the 1961 national convention so I was required for another year to travel to Tulsa Oklahoma to make reports to the national executive committee and the Board of Directors. Doug Blankenship had been elected National Vice President so we travelled together quarterly for another year.

 My first activity was to encourage each state president to appoint a state government affairs chairman who would encourage each chapter to name a chapter chairman and to carry out both the national programs as well as other local chapter programs in the area of governmental affairs. I started a national governmental affairs newsletter and travelled across the United States promoting the governmental affairs program. We had at that time a program cosponsored by the National Association of Manufacturers advocating tax rate reform in the Congress that was in support of the bipartisan Herlong Baker bill. I testified before Congress in favor of this bill and attended a number of meetings including meetings with US Chamber of Commerce and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. I was also seeking to find funding of our other governmental affairs activities since the Jaycee budget for governmental affairs was very limited.

Naturally I was extremely enthusiastic about the idea of putting on a national Jaycee governmental affairs conference similar to the ones we had held in Georgia. I was fortunate to have great support from National President Bob Conger and from National Vice President Bill Flynn of Connecticut who was assigned to oversee the Governmental Affairs Portfolio. Bill was a very enthusiastic Republican and since I was a Democrat we made a good team. We sold the idea to the national executive committee and organized the first conference held April 15-16, 1962.

The US Jaycees at the time were quite a strong and active organization and highly respected by politicians due to the fact that young leaders from across the country were members. Former Jaycee House Minority Leader (and later President) Gerald Ford opened the Conference. We received great collaboration in Washington from other ex-Jaycees in the Congress and other agencies.  The executive, legislative and judicial branches were visited in the Capitol Building, the Supreme Court and the White House. The 50 participants from 42 states were the state chairman and any other JC who wanted to attend their own expense. Workshops were held on key legislative issues, including federal aid to education, Medicare and tax reform. Delegates met with many Senators, Representatives and other government officials. Among individuals addressing them was Ted Sorensen, 1961 TOYM winner and special assistant to President Kennedy.  All participants were extremely enthusiastic when they returned to their home states and the government affairs program received a big boost from their enthusiasm.

At the national convention at the end of year I received the Outstanding National Chairman Award. My two very close friends Doug Blankenship and Bill Flynn were both candidates for national president of the organization. I was torn between my loyalties to each of them but of course since I was from Georgia I had to principally support Doug and served as his campaign treasurer for the convention which was held in Las Vegas.

In a very enthusiastic and hard fought campaign Blankenship finally came out the winner of the presidency for the new year and to my surprise he asked me to again serve as national governmental affairs chair. This was entirely against the tradition of the Jaycees, an organization that required rotation of new people in each post every year. I hesitated to accept but he was so insistent that I couldn't say no to my good friend. So I became national chairman for a second-year. Of course I was so full of enthusiasm that I set out to do greater things.  I converted the newsletter into a slick paper magazine, found a sponsor for it and published it during the year to motivate Jaycee governmental affairs including articles about government in general. In addition we we continued support of tax rate reform, made a video with Congressmen Herlong and Baker and I testified again before Congress on behalf of their bill. The Herlong Baker bill never became law but the concept of tax reduction for economic growth was picked up by President Kennedy in successful legislation he proposed to the Congress. 

I planned the next governmental affairs conference to be much more exciting with more interesting activities and we had a great success.  Sixty-four Jaycees representing 41 states discussed national issues with a host of top leaders during February 3 – 8, 1963 pretty well establishing the conference as an annual event of the US Jaycees. Delegates met with Speaker of the House John W. McCormack; Senator Hubert Humphrey; Congressman Ed Foreman and other legislative leaders. At the White House they were given orientation on the executive branch of the government by Presidential Adviser Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and Special Assistant Brook Hays. Other features of the event included a lively debate on Medicare, pitting Dr. Edward Annis of the American Medical Association and Ivan Nestingen, deputy secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.

 Dick Headlee was the national vice president responsible for overseeing our efforts. He was a Republican from Utah and extremely enthusiastic also about governmental affairs. As we were walking across the capital grounds at lunch during the first day Dick saw th gleaming new marble building of the Teamsters Union which faced the Capitol. He had the brilliant idea of adding its President, the controversial Jimmy Hoffa, to our program and asked our staff assistant to go to the building and see if he could arrange a meeting with President Hoffa. Sure enough to everyone’s surprise the meeting was set up and we all filed into the union’s auditorium, each of us shaking hands with Hoffa who met us at the door. He was very personable as he gave us a talk about the Teamsters Union, how it operated in general and especially its lobbying efforts in the US Congress. Hoffa, at that time was one of the most powerful political players in Washington. Our guys were extremely thrilled with this unusual opportunity. We also went to visit to the Russian Embassy. At this time the Cold War was quite frozen and our folks were quite surprised and thrilled. We had a one hour briefing on Russian/US relations. As an interesting anecdote we had been told to be sure no one brought any recording instruments into the Russian Embassy. However, unbeknown to us, a young enthusiastic Jaycee from Wisconsin carried a portable radio-recorder in his hand and no one in our group or the embassy noticed it. The next morning someone called Jaycee headquarters congratulating us saying that the recording was being played on a radio station in Wisconsin. Of course I nearly had a nervous breakdown and we were extremely worried about causing some kind of international incident. Fortunately apparently the news of this never went national nor did it get back to the Russians and we certainly never mentioned it again. This is the first time it's ever been revealed.

I was nemed “One of Georgia’s Five Outstanding Young Men of 1963” by the Georgia Junior Chamber of Commerce in a ceremony held in Macon, Georgia.

During the year I was appointed to a three-person committee which was assigned to make a review of the financial operations and systems of US Jaycees and make recommendations for improvements. Among the improvements we suggested that the organization appoint an assistant treasurer to assist the national treasure and be better pepared for his year as treasurer. The precedent for this was the already existing National Assistant Legal Counsel who understudied the Legal Counsel. We thought this would be appropriate for the treasury function.

My good friend Dick Headlee, a brilliant fellow and marvelous speaker was elected national president of the Jaycees at the next national convention.  He called me up and asked me to be the first assistant treasurer of Jaycees so I had, after having spent three years working at the national level, two more years as assistant treasurer and later as treasurer. This gave me the opportunity to continue to support strongly the next two governmental affairs conferences.

The third conference  was highlighted by a visit to the White House where the 120 member Jaycee group was met by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Other features of the March 1 - 6, 1964 event included speeches by Senators Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, Everett M. Dirksen of Illinois, and Mike Mansfield of Montana. Jaycees also quizzed officials in many departments of the federal government, and heard a panel forecast the political outlook for 1964. 

The job of assistant treasurer was really relatively easy compared to the others so I had more time for other activities as I got prepared to be National Treasurer. I enjoyed this greatly because Headlee was such a dynamic and unusual person and great friend of mine. Meanwhile I had run for been elected to the Georgia State Senate during my term as National Governmental Affairs Chair hoping that this would provide an incentive to other Jaycees to likewise run for public office.  I attended and would continue to attend the quarterly US Jaycee executive committee meetings as national assistant treasurer and national treasurer.

The fourth conference (now called “seminar”) drew 130 Jaycees and wives to the nation's capital. Before the February 28 - March 5, 1965 session was over, delegates had listened to 26 congressmen, 9 senators, and 7 government officials. The' schedule included visits to the White House, Supreme Court, and Soviet Embassy. In the latter visit, several Jaycees were interviewed by a CBS reporter and the interview was carried on the Evening News with Walter Cronkite program. Ten outstanding local Governmental Affairs chairmen were honored at the meeting.

As my year as National Treasurer was coming to an end I assumed that I would be finalizing my Jaycee career at last but another strange thing happened.  There were not as many candidates for the ten National Vice President posts as there had been in previous years and there was still room for two or three more candidates as the national convention approached.

From our state the person who should have run was my very good friend Malone Sharp who was the Georgia State President.  For some reason Malone who was very very popular decided not to run for national vice president.  I talked to him and others about running and finally announced my candidacy for national vice president. This was totally unheard of and I knew my chances were slim if many other candidates enteed because I had never been a local chapter president, a national director or a state president, the normal path to national office.  In fact I had never heard of anyone ever been elected to national office who had not held those posts.

Notwithstanding I went ahead with my rather strange campaign ending up as one of 11 candidates for ten posts and considered the weakest of the 11.  My good friend Joe Sheehan who had become national director then president of the Georgia Jaycees was the greatest Jaycee politician I never knew. He took over my faltering campaign and at 6 o'clock in the morning on election day he knocked on my door having had no sleep and said “Jim congratulations you’re elected, I'm going to bed.” Later that day I was elected National Vice President. Another good friend, Jim Skidmore of New Jersey, was elected pPesident and he assigned me to the governmental affairs and mental health portfolios so in my final year of national Jacee service again I was responsible for the national government affairs conference. I was responsible in addition for the new Jaycee program in mental health and retardation which had been started by another good friend from Atlanta, Dr, Ronald Goldstein. Needless to say I had an extremely busy schedule during my last year of national Jaycee service. I secured sponsorship from Ford Motor Company for the Fifth National Governmental Affairs Conference. I had also previously secured sponsorship by Reynolds Tobacco Company of the Jaycee governmental affairs magazine.

A record 200 Jaycees took part in the 5th Annual Governmental Affairs Seminar, held February 13-18, 1966 in Washington, DC, The event had a sponsor for the first time, Ford Motor Company, which made it possible to open registration to all Jaycees, and not just outstanding Governmental Affairs chairmen from the states. Also on hand were ten delegates from Europe and Latin America. State presidents and members of the Executive Committee were honored by an invitation to the Presidential Prayer Breakfast, an annual event for the President of the United States. The Reverend Billy Graham was the keynote speaker at this inspiring meeting attended by President Johnson and congressional and government leaders. The breakfast came on February 17. Highlights for all delegates included a seminar on the role of young men in politics, put on by the American Medical Political Action Committee. Jaycees visited the, House Chambers and Senate Chamber, and talked with Associate Justice Byron R. White while at the Supreme Court. They also saw the Soviet Embassy and met with Dr. Wernher von Braun and other dignitaries of the United States space program. A special guest was Thomas Reid, Ford Motor Company governmental affairs director and former US Jaycee executive vice president.

Each National Vice President was assigned to oversee an activity portfolio and five states. I travelled to my five states as well as others and had a marvelous year encouraging Jaycees to continue to be active and to develop themselves as leaders, especially through public service. This was a wonderful experience and I treasure my six years of national Jaycee experience more than almost anything in my life. I had friends in every state in the union and certainly did enjoy the opportunity to have a final year of Jaycee service even though my time was distributed among various activities especially service as Srare Senator. My Jaycee budget was used up by mid-year so I had to finance the rest of the year increasing my already tight financial situation extremely thin. I was beginning to realize that I had been vastly overcommitted to too many different activities, but I would never, never have reduced my Jaycee service. It was a wonderful opportunity and many of the experiences and things I learned in the US Jaycees were extremely useful to me and my service as a State Senator and throughout the rest of my life.

When in 1967 I resigned from the State Senate to go to Peru with the Alliance for Progress the Atlanta chapter conferred on me an honorary Junior Chamber International Senatorship. I was still so bound to the Jaycee movement that I became active in the Peruvian Jaycees and started an English speaking Lima International Jaycees Chapter mostly for young ex-pats that worked in Lima. I was its first President and later became National Vice President of the Peruvian Jaycees. I was later made an honorary member of the Lima Jaycees and the Peruvian Jaycee Senate.



Whenever you find you are on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect

                     --- Mark Twain

We have never observed a great civilization with a population as old as the United States will have in the twenty-first century; we have never observed a great civilization that is as secular as we are apparently going to become; and we have had only half a century of experience with advanced welfare states...Charles Murray

Kella
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