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A life of principle from a young age

Sam Montague
Sam Montague

The foreword in Sam Montague's autobiography, describing him as one who spent most of his life trying to build a better free world, is particu-larly fitting. Another phrase could well have been added about his integrity and patriotism.

Montague's dedication to principle was tested relatively early in his life when, during his collegiate senior year, he faced expulsion from Louisiana State University, where he was majoring in journalism. The student newspaper published an article that enraged the state's most powerful politician, Sen. Huey Long. Long, also known as "The Kingfish," called the university president, James Monroe Smith, demanding that the news staff be expelled and that all future articles be censored by a faculty member he appointed. "No one at LSU is going to criticize me, ever," Long told Smith.

The president ordered the staff to apologize formally to Long or be expelled. Although not a member of the staff, Montague was called before the president and was one of seven who refused to apologize.

"I told the president I had done nothing wrong and I firmly believed in my right as an American to practice freedom of the press," he told the president.

The students, dubbed The Seven LSU Rebels, were dismissed from the university and were told by Smith that no other university would accept them. He was wrong about that. Within a few days, they were welcomed into the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri, and all but one, who dropped out for health reasons, graduated.

President Smith subsequently was convicted of fraudulent use of university funds and sent to prison.

Montague graduated from MU in 1936 and returned to New Orleans, the city where he was born. His first job was with the New Orleans Times-Picayune as a general reporter. Later he worked with the New Orleans Item-Tribune.

In 1938, Montague became concerned about the German military threat.

"What disturbed me most was that so many others didn't seem to be bothered one way or another," he said.

He joined the U.S. Army and served eight years as a commissioned officer, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

After World War II ended, Montague and his wife, Marjorie, whom he married in 1944, moved to Mexico City with their young son. There Sam worked with the Department of Agriculture, then the American Embassy as press attaché. In the early 1950s they returned to the United States.

"We loved Mexico, but we were ready to go home," Marjorie said.

Back in the states, Montague settled into a new and highly successful career as a professional fundraiser. One of his early successes was orchestrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the journalism school at the University of Missouri.

"After what the university did for me, how could I say no—so we lived in Columbia for a couple of years," he said.

After that, Montague moved to Kansas City, where he became immersed in one successful fund-raising project after another, obtaining funding for organizations including the Gillis Home for Children, Don Bosco Center, Tourism Center, Kansas City Spirit Festival, and Kansas City earnings tax campaign. He also raised money to help change the name of Mid-Continent Airport to Kansas City International Airport and promote the name "City of Fountains."

Montague's most challenging job occurred in the late 1950s, when he was hired by Joyce C. Hall, founder of Hallmark Cards, to help establish Hall's People-to-People organization, headed by former Pres. Dwight Eisenhower. Hall wanted the organization's first meeting to coincide with the 40th anniversary rededication of the Liberty Memorial in November 1961.

Hall hoped to have both Eisenhower and former Pres. Harry S. Truman speak at the ceremony, but one problem arose: The two former presidents hadn't spoken to each other in eight years. Hall wanted Montague to arrange a reconciliation before the ceremony—a monumental task. Montague described events leading to the meeting of the two former presidents in detail in his unpublished autobiography:

Accompanied by Nathan Stark, a prominent civic leader, and Henry Talge, one of Truman's longtime friends, Montague went to the Truman Library to ask Truman if he would consider inviting Eisenhower to the library or meet him at his suite at Hallmark headquarters. Truman's response to both was a curt "I will not." How about meeting at a neutral site, Montague asked. "I will not," Truman replied.

Finally Truman agreed that if Eisenhower would come to the library, he would receive him "with cordiality and hospitality." Truman added that if any publicity occurred beforehand, he wouldn't see him.

Hall then asked Eisenhower if he would consider a meeting.

"Eisenhower thought about it and said, 'OK. I'll go out to the library, but if there is any press leakage beforehand, I won't go,'" Montague wrote.

On the day of the meeting, Truman was at the entrance of the library to greet Eisenhower when his limousine arrived. The two shook hands, toured the library, then spent 20 minutes alone in Truman's private office. Afterward they again shook hands and the historic meeting was over.

Montague said that on the drive back to Kansas City, according to Hall, Eisenhower slapped his thigh and said, "You know, that wasn't so bad."

Montague, now 99 years old and a resident of Overland Park, said, "I consider that one of the most difficult and rewarding events of my life."

The Montagues live with their daughter, Lisa Montague. Their oldest son, Rob Montague, also lives in Johnson County. Another daughter, Teresa Montague, lives in Maine. Another son, Richard Montague, died 12 years ago.

Sam is a faithful member of "Celebrate Age," a group of Johnson County men who meet regularly for camaraderie. He's the senior member.