John Vliet Lindsay
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John Vliet Lindsay

A veteran of World War II, in which he served as a naval officer and achieved the rank of lieutenant, John Vliet Lindsay graduated Yale Law School in 1948.  After a decade in private practice in a New York law firm, Lindsay went to work for the Justice Department in 1955, serving as a liaison to the White House and arguing cases before the Supreme Court.  Lindsay, a liberal Republican, returned to New York City and won election to Congress in Manhattan's heavily Democratic 17th District.  He was elected to four terms in the House of Representatives, from 1958 to 1964.  He then became the 103rd mayor of New York City in 1965.

He won reelection as mayor in 1969 on the Liberal Party line after losing the Republican primary.  In 1971, he switched affiliation to the Democratic Party.  In 1972, he entered the presidential primaries in Florida and Wisconsin, losing both.  After serving out his second term as mayor of New York City, Lindsay returned to private life in 1973, working at his law practice, authoring books, and serving as a television commentator.

The message that was delivered at the memorial service for John Vliet Lindsay, on Friday, January 26, 2001 by New York City Mayor, Rudolph W. Giuliani, states most of what needs to be said.  This eulogy by Mayor Giuliani is reprinted below.

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 Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani 

Memorial Service for Mayor John V. Lindsay 

Friday, January 26th, 2001 

As Delivered

 Thank you. 

The Very Reverend Harry H. Pritchett, all the distinguished members of the clergy, Congressman Rangel. 

To John Lindsay's wife Mary; his daughters Margy, Anne, and Kathy, his son Johnny, and brother Robert; and to all his grandchildren and extended family members: the thoughts are prayers of all New Yorkers are with you this day and always. 

John Lindsay defined an era in the life of New York City. 

He embodied the hopes of a generation after the death of John F. Kennedy, a time of discord, rebuilding, and re-birth, when all the action in our nation -- for better and for worse -- seemed to be taking place in our cities. 

He made New York City a symbol for urban America, by speaking out about what he believed was wrong, discussing what he believed could be made right, and proposing solutions whose legacy we live with today. 

There is no question that he had an enduring impact on the City that he loved. His energy, his optimism -- and yes, his charisma --made him a national figure during the time he lived at Gracie Mansion. 

John Lindsay was born in New York City, served as a gunnery officer during World War II, and entered politics after working in the Justice Department, during the Eisenhower Administration. 

During his first run for Congress from Manhattan he declared, "I expect to lay out proof that the Republican Party . . . will stand for progressive measures designed to further the freedom and security of the individual." 

Throughout his career he kept his word, always speaking out for the individual, always speaking out for human rights, and always speaking out against extremists -- in other parties as well as his own -- and standing alongside civil rights leaders who welcomed him as an articulate and strong ally in their struggle. 

He opened his arms to the immigrants who have always ensured that our City's greatness will be constantly renewed, and he made them feel wanted. 

He was never afraid to cut his own path through the political wilderness, because he had the courage to follow his own convictions. 

He was indeed a "bigger than life" Mayor.  He was a handsome man; an articulate man. 

In fact, today I looked at a Life Magazine from May of 1968. John Lindsay was on the cover, and the headline said, "The Lindsay Style: Cool Mayor in a Pressure Cooker."  That's the way I think we remember him. 

He was a man who had beliefs and a philosophy that he was willing to express.  He was willing to stick with it in good times and in bad. 

You may have agreed with it -- you may have disagreed with it -- but you knew where John Lindsay stood. 

All of these attributes, and more, drew men and women of extraordinary talent to him, and to city government. For many, the idea of working for city government would have otherwise been below their perceived horizons, but for the appeal of working for John Lindsay and of taking part in his great mission to reform New York City. 

At the time of his Mayoralty, I was in Law School and beginning my career in law as an assistant U.S. Attorney.  He lifted my view of what working in government could do for the City of New York. It was a feeling.  It was an attitude.  He made working for the City seem more altruistic, more idealistic, more exciting than it seemed before him.  And I think a lot of that lasted, and many Mayors thereafter were the beneficiary of what he had done by making it acceptable to work for the City of New York. 

He was different in another way.  He was a Republican elected in a big Democratic city - the biggest Democratic city - the first since the legendary Fiorello LaGuardia. 

So considering this distinguished lineage, you can see why I cling to a strong bond with John Lindsay.  I want to grab on to his coattails, and Fiorello's. 

All three of us Republicans were also elected as candidates of the Liberal Party, and all three of us had to take positions that were at times at odds with our national party. 

In John's case he ultimately changed parties in 1971 from Republican to Democrat.  But that was only after he lost the Republican nomination in a primary in 1969, and was re-elected, extraordinarily, on the Liberal line alone. 

But whatever John Lindsay's party affiliation, he remained consistent in his philosophy of government, about helping people, about individual rights, about human rights and civil rights.  He spoke out for them nobly. He put the interests of the City of New York ahead of all politics. 

He set a reform agenda, and he made it acceptable to be a reformer, as LaGuardia did for an earlier generation. 

One of the finest moments of his mayoralty occurred on the night of April 4th, 1968, which I'm sure you all remember well, in the aftermath of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination.  While cities across the nation were exploding into flames, New York remained comparatively quiet in a spirit of shared loss. 

This was in large part due to the example John Lindsay set, walking the streets late into the night, reaching out to those in pain and calling for unity and understanding even in the depths of that terrible time.  It was an exceptional contribution. 

The vitality he brought to the office led to a resurgence in the spirit of our City - a spirit symbolized by the Miracle Mets of 1969. 

It is ironic that today is also the day on which Tommie Agee, the center-fielder of that wonderful Miracle Mets team, is being buried.  Like John Lindsay, he was a wonderful New Yorker, and a very fine man who helped children. 

That was also the year that a New York team beat a team from Baltimore in the Super Bowl.  We are hoping that history repeats itself. 

John Lindsay did a lot to cultivate the arts in our City, creating the Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting which has done much to secure our place in the movie industry.  His advocacy for the arts continued throughout his career, through his work as Chairman of the Lincoln Center Theater. 

John Lindsay also took special pride in the expansion and improvement of our City's parks; and that's why it is appropriate to rename East River Park for John Lindsay. 

Some may wonder what a child in the future will think when he or she sees John Lindsay's name on that park gate. 

The greatness of a Mayor can be determined in many different ways, but it is already evident that John Lindsay's presence, his looming figure and leadership, will endure.  John Lindsay transcended party lines, as he reached across ethnic and racial barriers in a very special way.  He forced people to look for long-term solutions. 

In his second inauguration address, John Lindsay said -- and I quote -- "The test for this administration and for this City is whether we have learned, both from mistakes and from the real and vital beginnings that have been made." 

Our City learned from John Lindsay, and we continue to learn from him. 

Personally, and most importantly, John Lindsay was a good man.  In 1993, he supported Mayor Dinkins for re-election.  But the day after the election he called me and offered his assistance.  I had lunch with him, and he was very generous, very kind, and very helpful in the advice he gave me.  I remember his telling me then, 20 years after he left the Mayoralty, that the toughest times that I would have -- because they were the toughest he had -- would be the calls received in the middle of the night and the news they almost always brought of a police officer shot, a firefighter burned, or a City worker seriously injured.  He was right.  And I could see that the memory of those times still pained him. 

I also treasure the memory of his return, with Mary and the family to Gracie Mansion and the time they spent with us there in their old home.  Mary Lindsay is a remarkable woman -- a source of great strength for John and for our City.  Thank you, Mary, for always uplifting the spirit of our City. 

John Lindsay's legacy will continue to be debated in the civic discussions that he loved so well. 

But let the record show, that . . . 

. . . John Lindsay refused to give up on Cities when others were abandoning them. 

. . . He was determined to fashion a new kind of politics that reflected the unique and diverse spirit of the greatest City on earth. 

. . . He was independent. 

. . . He was outspoken. 

. . . He was a reformer. 

. . . But most of all, he was a New Yorker. 

And so today, the City he loved, and served so well, bows its head in thanks to John Lindsay for his lifetime of service. 

Thank you.

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If you can contribute additional information regarding the life story or genealogy of John Vliet Lindsay, please e-mail me at Ron Lindsay

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Page Initially Posted: June 26, 2001;  Updated: November 29, 2001

 

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