Half-Life of a Zealot

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Swanee Hunt’s life has lived up to her Texas-size childhood. Daughter of legendary oil magnate H. L. Hunt, she grew up in a household dominated by an arch-conservative patriarch who spawned a brood of colorful offspring. Her family was nothing if not zealous, and that zeal—albeit for more compassionate causes—propelled her into a mission that reaches around the world.

Half-Life of a Zealot tells how the girl who spoke against “Reds” alongside her father became a fierce advocate...

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Overview


Swanee Hunt’s life has lived up to her Texas-size childhood. Daughter of legendary oil magnate H. L. Hunt, she grew up in a household dominated by an arch-conservative patriarch who spawned a brood of colorful offspring. Her family was nothing if not zealous, and that zeal—albeit for more compassionate causes—propelled her into a mission that reaches around the world.

Half-Life of a Zealot tells how the girl who spoke against “Reds” alongside her father became a fierce advocate for progressive change in America and abroad, an innovative philanthropist, and Bill Clinton’s Ambassador to Austria. In captivating prose, Hunt describes the warmth and wear of Southern Baptist culture, which instilled in her a calling to help those who are vulnerable. The reader is drawn into her full-throttle professional life as it competes with critical family needs.

Hunt gives a remarkably frank account of her triumphs and shortcomings; her sorrows, including a miscarriage and the failure of a marriage; the joys and struggles of her second marriage; and her angst over the life-threatening illness of one of her three children. She is candid about the opportunities her fortune has created, as well as the challenge of life as an heiress.

Much of Swanee Hunt’s professional life is devoted to expanding women’s roles in making and shaping public policy. She is the founding director of Harvard’s Women and Public Policy Program at the Kennedy School of Government, chair of the Initiative for Inclusive Security, and president of the Hunt Alternatives Fund.

Swanee Hunt’s autobiography brims over with strong women: her mother, whose religious faith and optimism were an inspiration; her daughter, who fights the social stigma of mental disorders; the women of war-torn Bosnia, who transformed their grief into action; and friends like Hillary Clinton, who used her position as First Lady to strengthen the voices of others.

Hunt is one more strong woman. Half-Life of a Zealot is her story—so far.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“For a dozen years I’ve watched Swanee Hunt transform her resources into possibilities for others. This book shows the creative nexus of personal values, political savvy, and global reform that has made hers a life well lived.”—George Soros

“Swanee Hunt is the woman behind the women, supporting their leadership throughout the world. Through them, she touches millions who will never have the privilege of browsing in a bookstore. This beautiful book tells why and how.”—Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia

“Swanee Hunt’s life reads like a novel. Born into a powerful, conservative, and patriarchal American family, a young girl grows up to use her part of that power to support the powerless and to encourage peace and women’s leadership around the world. To discover the fascinating story in between, you must read Half-Life of a Zealot.”—Gloria Steinem

Ruthie Ackerman

“[O]ften intimate and revealing, Half-Life of a Zealot also looks past Hunt’s own life to confront the challenges facing the world’s women today—from the global perils of poverty and poor healthcare to the more personal challenges that come with juggling kids and a demanding career. Through it all, Hunt’s abiding hope is to engage women in the political process. Her message: think big, ask a lot of questions, and know that you have a place at the table.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822338758
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 11/28/2006
  • Pages: 424
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Swanee Hunt is the founding director of the Women and Public Policy Program at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, chair of the Initiative for Inclusive Security (formerly Women Waging Peace), president of the Hunt Alternatives Fund, and a member of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations and the boards of the International Crisis Group and Amnesty International. The U.S. Ambassador to Austria from 1993 until 1997, she is the author of the award-winning book This Was Not Our War: Bosnian Women Reclaiming the Peace, also published by Duke University Press. She has written hundreds of articles for American and international print media, including a nationally syndicated column for the Scripps Howard News Service. She has two masters degrees and a doctorate in theology.

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Read an Excerpt

Half-Life of a Zealot


By Swanee Hunt

DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2006 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-3875-8


Chapter One

Roots: Rural and Right

Backdrop

"This is a once in a lifetime moment. A room crammed full, and everyone likes me," I laughed before the crowd assembled in Washington for my swearing-in as ambassador to Austria. It was November 1993. A squirmy gaggle of children holding small American and Austrian flags sat cross-legged on a muted rose carpet around a stage. This family-oriented affair was a first for the U.S. State Department, which fancied itself more formally predisposed.

As my eyes scanned the room, I surveyed the characters in the pageant of my life: Aunts and uncles from Oklahoma and Louisiana. A Sunday school teacher at First Baptist Church of Dallas and employees of Hunt Oil Company. My pastor from Fort Worth, friends from the church in Heidelberg, and the rabbi I'd met when I was a seminary student in Denver. Caretakers from our ranch in Colorado, along with grown-up girlfriends who'd rafted the Grand Canyon rapids with me. Board members from the Women's Foundation and Hunt Alternatives Fund, next to members of Congress and the president's cabinet. My sisters, Helen and June. Grade school, high school, and college buddies-they'd aged, even if I hadn't.

Ipushed back tears as I shifted my gaze to our three children. They'd reaped some benefits but also borne the burden of my achievement. That wasn't fair, but then what is? They would somehow manage, I thought. No one worried about Henry, dashingly dressed and essentially grown. But Granny would have called our Teddy "knee-high to a grasshopper." And though Lillian was "cute as a button" (Granny, again) as she held her little brother's hand, her first ten years of childhood had been a struggle.

My love for our children blended into the rush of excitement as the ceremony commenced. The occasion was an intense mix of private and public, much as this book, if it's true, must be. Mother, bless her, gazed lovingly up at me as she held the Bible on which my hand rested, while Vice President Gore led me in the oath of office, with Charles, as always, standing close by. I'd worn my only designer suit, a strong cranberry statement, and I felt like She-Ra, Princess of Power, as I turned, grasped both sides of the podium, and leaned into the mike.

Stakes were high. I began by establishing my credentials, saying what I hoped to accomplish in the post. But I couldn't resist remarking to the crowd that Mother must be relieved at not having to explain to my late father why I was hanging out with all these Democrats.

At moments of acclaim, I always wish for my parents, though not my parents as known by the public. My father was described by journalists as the richest man in America. They were probably right. But I remember an early childhood when we weren't so rich. My mother and four children lived in a modest, middle-class brick home five minutes from my father's mansion. He moved us in with him when I was seven. I had a room in his big house, but it took me a couple of decades to figure out where I fit into his legacy.

I've often felt embarrassed about being part of a tribe of zealots: Dynasty builders. Evangelicals. Anti-communist crusaders. Fortune hunters. Pax Americans. While some are stoutheartedly spreading the Gospel, others claim to be rescuing our country from Big Government.

We seem to have it in our blood, the desire to change the world. I've spent much of who I am-time and energy, health and wealth-figuring out how best to help others. But care comes at a cost. It requires courage, a willingness to step out into uncertainty. In my case, that has meant putting myself on the line for my beliefs, sometimes in opposition to members of my family. In particular, I've rejected most of Dad's social and political values, while trying not to reject him.

What does that mean-rejecting his values while not rejecting him? I'd never say I exist in a meaningful sense apart from my values, so separating Dad's beliefs from his being is a dubious endeavor. But I've worked hard at trying to hold on to my father's best and let the rest slip away. It's been a task worth the trouble. For one thing, relationships always exist in a larger context, affecting other people. And while our father-daughter connection was painfully lacking, he meant the world to my mother, and she meant the world to me.

But there's more. When I step back, I can overlook the pain of my life and be grateful to Dad for resources that have allowed me to lift a bit of burden from others. My brother Ray, a brilliant businessman, restored the wealth that had dissipated by the time of my father's death. It was in the shadows of those two men that my own light grew strong, but it's taken me fifty years to admit that-even to myself.

My inheritance isn't just company stock, but also genes and family lore replete with adventurers exploring new territory, relying on vision and cunning to create institutions and businesses where none existed. Dad's trailblazing probably led to my penchant for striking out into the unknown, taking on intractable societal problems along the way. And my mother's religious devotion inspired my own brand of evangelism: a determination to save others, not from Lucifer's hell but from hell on earth.

When I'm asked how I wound up so different from my parents' conservative ways, I don't fully accept the premise. Sure, my persuasions diverged significantly from theirs. But I've been more surprised by how many of their bedrock attitudes and inclinations are fundamental to my thinking-particularly their insistence that every person is responsible for changing the world. This has nourished my work in the inner city of Denver ... the imperial halls of Vienna ... the rubble-strewn streets of Sarajevo. You might say that wherever I've ended up, my folks have come along.

Off the Farm

As a child, I played in a room hung with a picture of my grandfather "Hash" Hunt (Haroldson Lafayette Hunt Sr.) in his Confederate uniform. He enlisted at eighteen, along with his four brothers, in Company F of the 27th Arkansas Infantry, commanded by his father. Hash became sheriff of Fayette County, Illinois, and an affluent farmer. The youngest of eight, my father, Haroldson Lafayette Hunt Jr., was born in 1889 in Ramsey, Illinois, near Vandalia, where Abraham Lincoln started his political career fifty-five years earlier. Dad was called "June," for Junior. He was, by his own account, a genius. And he loved to tell how he started reading at two:

You see, when we had company, my father would bring me the newspaper and ask me to read the stock quotes. I would straighten my little skirt, then read. So I had to be two, because I started wearing pants when I was three.

Dad was taught by his mother at home. Ella, highly learned, assessed the local school and found it wanting, so she taught her youngest son herself. But at fifteen, itching to see the world, he jumped on a railroad car headed west. His siblings accused him of leaving the farm because he didn't want to work, but there were also tales of my grandfather being violent. Dad claimed he just didn't want to spend the rest of his life behind a mule.

My father wandered from state to state, picking up any sort of job, including stints as a short-order cook and shepherd. I grew up listening to hobo stories, including how as a lumberjack he earned the name "Arizona Slim," because his waist was so trim from bending over a saw. Word went out from some of his co-workers that they had found the Great White Hope, who might knock out the first black world champion boxer, Jack Johnson. Dad was never put to the test. Instead he planted eucalyptus trees, pounded stakes into railroad beds, and, yes, drove an ox plow.

In California he enrolled in college, having never gone to high school. He was there only half a year. The rumor was that he cleaned out the student body in poker. It's not clear whether he chose or was asked to leave. What is clear is that he relished life on the edge. A hundred times I heard him tell how in San Francisco he barely avoided being "shanghaied" by escaping through his hotel window. "Two days later," he would add with a chuckle, "the hotel was demolished in the earthquake of 1906."

In 1911 Hash died, leaving my father the sizable inheritance of $5,000. That was the beginning of his life as a businessman. At twenty-three years of age, he began to buy and sell cotton plantations on the Mississippi Delta until he had amassed "lots of land and lots of liabilities." In 1914 he met and married Lyda Bunker. They had six children over the next eighteen years. By 1919 he'd made a fortune, which he saw disappear in an economic downturn almost immediately thereafter.

Dad then ventured into the rough-and-tumble world of the Arkansas-Louisiana-Texas oil boom. He borrowed $50 for transportation and arrived in El Dorado broke. Early on, he figured out that he could drive into the country and offer a farmer $25 an acre for a lease to drill on the property, drive back to town, sell it to someone else for $35, and pocket the difference.

But that wasn't enough. When Dad didn't have two dimes to rub together, he would ask his foreman how much was needed to meet payroll. Then he'd cross the river to Mississippi and walk into gambling games with a rubber band around a thick roll of one-dollar bills, a hundred-dollar bill on the outside. At the start of the game, he'd take the roll from his pocket, as if estimating how many hundreds he had, and then tuck it back in. But beneath the showmanship was an awesome intellect. I have no reason to think he ever cheated. He didn't need to. Dad was known as a "card counter," calculating from the discards, plus his hand, the mathematical probability that a certain card would be in one place or another. He met payroll.

I obviously wasn't around, but from what I can put together, Dad cut an impressive figure. I have a picture of him from those days: six feet tall and fair, with broad shoulders. He was quite dapper. I've read that his trousers were always pressed and his shirts starched. He smoked a big cigar and wore a spiffy straw hat at a jaunty angle on his head. Even when he was short on cash, my father had the appearance of confidence and affluence.

Adding to his good looks, he was renowned for immense powers of concentration and the ability to formulate a plan, however unconventional. Long after others gave up, he stayed engaged in an enterprise with single-minded determination. And according to my mother, Dad's deals were based on a handshake. The writing could catch up later.

In his early years, half the Hunt wells had parts borrowed from Humble Oil (now Exxon). By 1925, after a string of successful wells, Dad sold a half-interest in some properties for $600,000. But then, how did he go from being a successful oil man to being an outrageously successful oil man? The story, as I've heard it, is that at forty my father met "Dad Joiner," a colorful oil-patch charlatan who called him "Boy" (an amazing thought). He and Joiner had much in common: neither drank nor used profanity, and both were unusually popular with the ladies.

In 1930 Joiner brought in a well, the Daisy Bradford #3, which drenched the crowd of five thousand hopeful on lookers, including my father, with "black rain." But production was inconsistent. And Joiner, having egregiously oversold shares, faced a slew of lawsuits from investors. Meanwhile, Dad could imagine an underground formation to account for why Joiner's well wasn't as successful as hoped. Intrigued, my father followed progress carefully as more wells were spudded, and he even put a scout on the scene.

Just about dark on November 26, a piece of core came up in a test drill. The scout rubbed it between his fingers and tasted it. He immediately telephoned my father in Dallas, who, that very moment, was negotiating with Joiner. Four hours later, assuming Joiner's legal problems, my father put $30,000 down and pledged $1.3 million from future profits for the discovery well and another five thousand acres of leases. In my home hangs a portrait of Dad with the historic lease in his hand.

His hunch was right. Beneath the red clay farmland was an ocean of oil. Within weeks, Kilgore, population seven hundred, became a wild congregation of ten thousand drillers, desperados, and hookers. By 1932 Hunt Production Company had nine hundred wells in East Texas. A pipeline carried the oil to the eastern seaboard, where it later fed the Allies' war effort.

But tragedy struck in 1937. A leak from a gas pipe that ran from the fields into a local public school caused an explosion that killed about three hundred, mostly children-more than half from Hunt Oil families. Frantic parents tore through the smoking wreckage. As each child's crushed or charred body was found, Dad walked over to the parents, reached into his pocket, and handed them cash for a funeral.

Hearing the story as an adult, I imagined my father doing whatever he could think of to help, yet still somehow emotionally removed. After the accident, perhaps because of it (who knows?), Dad left the area and moved his wife and children to Dallas. He reinvested his East Texas oil revenues in Louisiana.

My father was an eccentric oil-patch "wildcatter," who drilled for black gold on a hunch and a prayer. It was a wild ride, and his eyes twinkled as he told it later in his laid-back, country-thick voice: "Well, oh, in 1938 ... perhaps 1940 ... when I was bringin' in lots of wells, the brokers and speculators and traders developed a saying, 'Follow Hunt and get rich.' And so ... not long after that, I drilled ninety-nine consecutive dry wildcats. So, they began saying, 'Follow Hunt and go broke."' But then, from 1942 through 1945, Dad's companies produced over sixty million barrels of natural crude-more than all the Axis powers together.

When colleagues ask why I'm so focused-driven, really-I wonder if it's genetic, or if it's from growing up with a drifter who became the largest individual stakeholder in the biggest operating oil field in the world. By the end of the Second World War my father's fame had spread well beyond Texas. His shrewd business sense and gambler's instinct paid off in an era of speculative drilling that predated seismic technology. As his oil wells kept pumping, his income was so high that he calculated it by the minute, at one point joking that he quit cigars because he reckoned the time he spent taking off the wrappers was costing him millions.

When a reporter asked him if it was true that H. L. Hunt had an income of a million dollars a week, Dad answered, with a smile, "I would starve to death with an income of a million dollars a week." Yet money for Dad was just a way of keeping score. I often heard him ruminate, wistfully, that he'd like to wake up stone broke and see if he could do it again.

The Belle of Idabel

Dear Santa Claus,

I am a little girl nine years old. Will you please bring me a pair of skates and a doll stove? Bring my little brother a wagon and my mother wants a box of candy. I do not know what my two big brothers or my sister wants but please bring them something real nice, and don't forget the poor children.

Sincerely yours, Ruth Ray-Valiant Tribune, December 10, 1926

Mother was born in 1917 and grew up poor in Oklahoma, about the time my father was striking it big in East Texas. Her father, Walter Ray, had moved with her mother Grace by buggy and wagon from Arkansas to the new state created out of "Indian Territory." Walter was elected the initial county clerk and helped organize First Methodist Church of Idabel.

Granny told me that even though her husband "couldn't carry a tune in a bucket," he belted out hymns on Sunday, earning the nickname "Sing." All her life, Mother cherished the memory of her father, who succumbed to tuberculosis in the curative dry climate of Colorado Springs when she was three. Mom described Walter's last visit to their rental house near the sanitarium. Her eyes sparkled as she recounted how her weak and gaunt father rolled a newspaper into hats and trumpets, which the children proudly turned into a marching band, parading around his wheelchair in a scene straight out of Norman Rockwell. Large crowds gathered at the train station when his casket came home.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Half-Life of a Zealot by Swanee Hunt Copyright © 2006 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction xi

1. Roots: Rural and Right 1

2. Two Steps Forward 62

3. Finding My Voice 131

4. Politics, Prestige, and Peril 196

5. Queen for a Day 267

6. Call Me Swanee 329

7. Tender Mercies 381

Index 395

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