In honor of our 30th anniversary year, Ploughshares Fund is conducting interviews with some of our first donors - recording their stories of why they initially took a risk on Sally Lilienthal’s big idea. Board member and former Ploughshares executive director Gloria Duffy interviews Jim Hormel below. The interview has been edited and condensed for space. A shorter version appears in this quarter’s newsletter.
Gloria: Tell me how you met Sally.
Jim: We met in an elevator on the way from an art auction. We started a conversation, and I was really taken with her because she was so energetic and so expressive.
G: Did she bend your ear and say, “I am putting together this foundation, what do you think?”
J: I really don't remember but she probably did. She was very much engaged. Sally was of an age that remembered right after World War II when many people actually had bomb shelters underground that were supposedly designed to protect from radiation. There were all kinds of nuclear fears that didn't materialize at that time and then people gradually got a little less concerned about the issues. The fifties in particular were full of scares, and politicians I think played off those fears, for better or worse. There were the so called "red scare" and the so called "lavender scare" around gay people working in the federal government. I think in a preemptive act of self-defense they started firing people who were gay, and it was shameful. That was the time. Washington thrives on scares.
G: Obviously because you started donating, you felt that a group of people in San Francisco giving funds to this foundation could affect the nuclear weapons situation?
J: I thought so, and well, I thought anything was worth trying. People generally are not terribly mindful of the destruction of war. We haven't had a war in this country since 1865. Nothing here since then has been destroyed by war, and we as United States citizens, don't have a sense of what that kind of destruction is like.
G: Do you think it's unique that Ploughshares grew out of San Francisco?
J: I think it really is special. San Francisco is blessed. This is where the United Nation's Charter was signed, for example. San Francisco has a very special aura, that fits Ploughshares and Ploughshares fits San Francisco.
G: Why have you supported Ploughshares Fund all these years?
J: Well, the issue isn’t going away and there are things that have happened to underscore the dangers of nuclear activity, not necessarily bombs. For example,people still cannot go near Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.
G: So fast forward many years. You became the first openly gay ambassador of the United States. And you went off to Luxembourg and personally dealt with issues of peace and conflict in Europe and NATO.
J: Right now we have so many more [weapons] than anyone could deem militarily feasible, and so does Russia. I think it’s great when people like George Shultz stand up publically and make it clear this is not a partisan issue. And a bold objective is not unreasonable. Doing away with mass destruction does not sound unreasonable to me.
G: A lot of your work has been for human rights, civil rights, gay rights. Do you see connections between the work that you spearhead and the civil rights and gay rights area, and the type of work that Ploughshares does?
J: I think that there is a definite connection. In dealing with human rights and civil rights, the principle aim is to achieve equality – to create a world in which every person starts with the same chance. There are a lot of factors involved in creating that sort of equality, and a piece of it is the way people treat other people. I think that the more we engage in allowing people to see how they treat other people, the more we are creating a civil universe in which people will be less inclined to become adversarial and incendiary. Peace is a universal goal and equality is a universal goal.
G: So is there anything else you would like to put on the record about Ploughshares, 30 years, Sally, your thoughts, goals, objectives, anything?
J: Ploughshares is wonderful, and I think it's wonderful in a large part because of Sally. I wish everybody could have known her, she was an amazing person. I have every confidence that Ploughshares will continue to lead. I have the feeling that the people involved today are people who are following Sally’s path and are very clear about that direction.