Joni Whitmore ran for Alaska's only seat in the U.S. Congress and launched a statewide effort toward campaign finance reform. (more background -- start at the beginning)
Jos had heard a radio interview of mine and relayed he had been encouraged by others to help us. He was very curious about the politics and 10 Key Values of the Green Party, and had lots of good questions for me. He pleaded ignorance to much about politics and the process at large, but expressed his eagerness and willingness to be of any assistance he could. In fact, his natural sense for situations and people helped carry him easily through the tough spots.
During our interview and upon reviewing his resume, I teased him a bit about his excessive humility -- clearly, he had many talents and skills to offer. He blushed a deep dark red, but nodded quietly. I was shocked to discover his age  -- from his mature demeanor I assumed him to be much older. He seemed to have no hesitation about getting involved (despite my warnings of the dangers associated with these efforts, not to mention Don Young's reputed campaign tactics), nor had he any fear about public speaking. He was delighted we had interest in him -- and I was ecstatic to have competent help. Unlike our other Homer volunteers (with families and regular jobs), Jos had a wide open schedule -- and we soon designated him Coordinator for the Homer office. We became close friends and compatriots in the process.
Off on the campaign trail, I received regular and often hilarious messages and updates from Jos, who took on the enormous effort with gusto. He never missed an opportunity to put in a positive word, stayed upbeat under the load, and got along well with everybody. As the summer progressed, our statewide Coordinator Betty Wood (who had been equally impressed by Jos's abilities), called to say a family emergency would require her return to New York. She had already spoken to Jos, and the two had decided he would take over in the Anchorage office through the duration of the campaign.
Betty had begun working with a class of Anchorage area gifted and talented student volunteers, who looked to her for daily guidance and interpretation of the process and issues. Upon getting settled in Anchorage, Jos was quick to confide in me that he was no Betty, but that he was excited and delighted we trusted him to take over for her, that it was an opportunity he simply couldn't refuse. Then he got very quiet, and consternated -- one of the only times I remember seeing him that way. I asked him what was wrong, and he confessed he was worried how he would comport himself with these young, intelligent and very attractive volunteers! I laughed (assuming he was kidding) and he looked surprised, and reiterated the seriousness of his concern, remarking in a very tiny Jos voice "but Joni, they're sooooo cute"! It was the one of the few moments in my time with Jos that he actually acted his age! I smiled and gently reminded him that he was a mature and reasonable man that had the self discipline to constrain himself (at least with our volunteers), and encouraged him to find other outlets for his energy if necessary. He seemed relieved to have it off his chest, and agreed that he could handle himself appropriately.
The workload of a campaign is endless, and my scheduled appointments, interviews and deadlines nonstop. Jos took the lead in coordinating all of it, using his capabilities to the fullest and loving every minute of it. He took to sleeping on the couch in the office due to the load. By the time he had finished the work from one day, there were but a few hours left until the next would begin the process all over again. He never complained, except to plead with me that he was afraid he didn't have the experience to do the job adequately! When he would return to worrying about something, I would remind him that worrying was like praying for what he didn't want, and to avoid going there if possible. It was the effort forward that would make a difference.
We sought advice from leaders in their respective fields of expertise, to ensure the campaign reflected the most pro-active and cutting 'edge' positions I might dare to take. I remarked to Jos early on that those on the edge are said to be better able to see both sides, and suggested perhaps that might be an important perspective and part of helping to move society forward. It was one of many occasions Jos froze, almost in shock, mouth dropped open as he stared at me. I made a point to regularly spur him to think beyond where he was -- and he loved that too.
His spirit throughout remained undaunted by the load. He was a positive influence on all of us, and exuded continuous love and great cheer, which in and of itself made a phenomenal difference -- especially toward the general election, when the stress and load often consumes the most seasoned veterans... He expressed his love, admiration and respect to Betty, to my husband Benn, and especially toward our two year old son Freeman, whom he had extraordinary delight in entertaining. The two of them were a delightful sight walking along together -- the tall and the short of it, almost instantly fast friends. And he watched out for me with great concern, slipping me nutritional drinks on the side whenever he could as he knew my schedule allowed scarce time for eating and recuperating.
Just prior to the general election, Tony, Don and I had our final live televised debate, to be broadcast statewide. In hindsight, I think Jos was as nervous as I was. Jos and Freeman camped out to watch "Momma" in action, while Benn escorted me to the station and back. Upon our return, Jos was as excited as I'd ever seen him, and nearly tackled me with his joy. The debate had gone extremely well. All our hard work had paid off. Funniest of all, Jos had to report, that upon watching me leave, he had instructed Freeman to keep an eye on the television, that soon they would watch Momma debate the big boys. When we appeared on the set, Jos reported that Freeman's eyes got wider and wider, and turning to Jos he said "but Jos, how did Momma get inside the t.v.?".
Jos proved himself an extraordinary individual that summer. He loved the challenge, the pace, and that his limits were stretched farther than even he dreamed possible. Over the last five years he contacted me periodically to let me know of his progress. "You'll never believe what I'm doing now, Joni" he'd start with pride. I always believed him and was always cheered to hear of his progress. I have to confess I did feel guilty about the influence I had had on him when he told me of his work studying the political right-wing...
He kept tabs on me, and called me election night in 1996 and 1998, as he simultaneously used the Internet to monitor my very tight races as the Democratic Party nominee against the Republican Speaker of Alaska's State House. "You'll never guess who this is", he'd start, but I knew, as his wonderfully deep and caring voice always gave him away. "Jos!", I would cry. "Joni!", he would cry in return -- immediately transporting both of us back to the summer of 1994, when that was our regular rallying cry and greeting to each other.
Though far away from one another, we remained close in spirit. During your recent phone call to me, I felt trills of energy vibrating through me, as I have this weekend while attempting to compose these precious memories. I know he's not far, and I know he's still doing great work.
And now at last as I conclude this can I too cry for our loss of this great man, Jos!
Other Jos Alaska links: Fishing diary. Big fish. Audio tape diary. Election campaign. American Country Magazine. Mine guiding. Home video.