Newsmax columnist Paul M. Weyrich, founding president of the Heritage Foundation and one of the leading figures in the conservative movement, passed away Thursday morning at age 66.
Weyrich was most recently Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation, and served as president of the organization from 1977 to 2002.
From 1989 to 1996, Weyrich served as president of the Kreible Institute of the Free Congress Foundation, responsible for training democracy movements in the states comprising the former Soviet Union. He was a founder and past director of the American Legislative Exchange Council, and at his death was the National Chairman of Coalitions for America.
Born in Racine, Wis., Weyrich became involved in politics while a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and was active in Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign. He spent his early career as a reporter, TV anchor and radio news director in Wisconsin and Colorado.
In 1967, Weyrich became press secretary to Republican Sen. Gordon Allott of Colorado. While serving in this capacity, he met Jack Wilson, an aide of Joseph Coors, patriarch of the Coors brewing family. In 1973, with the financial backing of Coors, Weyrich and Ed Feulner founded the Heritage Foundation as a think tank to counterbalance prevailing sentiment on taxation and regulation, which they considered to be anti-business.
The Heritage Foundation has grown into one of the world's largest and most respected public policy research institutes and has been hugely influential in advancing conservative policies.
With support from Coors, Weyrich also founded the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress (CSFC), an organization that trained and mobilized conservative activists.
Under Weyrich, the CSFC was among the first grassroots organizations to raise funds extensively through direct mail campaigns. It also was one of the first organizations to tap into evangelical Christian churches as places to generate support for social conservative causes.
In 1977, Weyrich co-founded Christian Voice, and two years later founded, along with Jerry Falwell, the Moral Majority. Weyrich coined the phrase "Moral Majority."
Weyrich was a regular guest on daily radio and television talk shows. A sought-after writer, he published policy reports and journals on a variety of conservative issues and contributed editorials to The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.
He was described by The Economist as "one of the conservative movement's more vigorous thinkers," and was voted three years in a row by readers of Conservative Digest as one of the top three "most popular conservatives in America not in Congress."
In 1996, Weyrich was diagnosed with a spinal injury and was confined to a wheelchair since 2001.
His last column for Newsmax appeared on the day of his death.
He is survived by his wife of 45 years, the former Joyce Smigun, and five children.
The Heritage Foundation issued this statement: “Weyrich was a good friend to many of us at Heritage, a true leader and a man of unbending principle. He won Heritage’s prestigious Clare Boothe Luce Award in 2005. Weyrich will be deeply missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, including son Steve, who currently works at Heritage."
Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online called Weyrich "a Washington conservative institution" and "a patriot who lived a long life serving his nation."
Newsmax’s chief Washington correspondent Ronald Kessler said: "Because Weyrich was a trusted and informed source, he had credibility and influence throughout the conservative movement. Nor was he afraid to stand up to politicians when he disagreed with them."
Weyrich once told Kessler: “My father was a blue collar worker, but he was very well educated by his own initiative. He was a strong Catholic conservative. He taught me basic principles which I use to this day. I am motivated by my family. I hope my father, watching us from above, is proud of what my good wife Joyce and I have done. Being the sinner that I am, I only hope at the last judgment the Lord can say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’”
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