Johnny Isakson: Living His Values
Monday, December 2nd, 2019
U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., has earned the reputation as a compassionate, honest and bridge-building public servant throughout his long political career. In a video released, Isakson’s colleagues reflect on his commitment to living his values while representing Georgians in the state and in Washington, D.C., over the span of his 45 years in public office.
The video is the latest in a series about Isakson’s career as he prepares to leave the Senate on Dec. 31.
“Johnny has a long political history, he has a long successful business history, but he also has a history of being known as being a compassionate person,” said former U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., in the video.
As a family man first and foremost, Isakson explains his perspective. “Our children are the message you and I send to a time we’ll never see,” he said. “It’s a cycle, and you have to continue to invest in that cycle and improve it.”
“He will always be remembered for honesty and integrity, and setting an example of intellectual honesty for a younger generation of people who are going to be our leaders tomorrow,” said former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., founder and co-chair the Nuclear Threat Initiative.
In a recent syndicated column published widely in Georgia, Dick Yarbrough wrote, “With Johnny Isakson, what you see is what you get: A man who has always done what he thought was the right thing to do, not what was politically expedient.”
Isakson explains his personal approach in the video, saying for him, “It’s about relationships. It’s about respect. It’s about motivation, and it’s about getting things done. So make friends. Be a friend, and know how to be a friend. It makes all the difference in the world…” said Isakson. “It’s not about me, it’s about them. It’s about us, and that’s always the way I’ve felt about it.”
The December 2019 edition of Georgia Trend magazine included a column about Isakson, written by Dr. Kerwin Swint, award-winning author, commentator and Kennesaw State University political science professor. In “An Inspiration,” Swint writes, “As a political science professor and an administrator, I’m often asked by students if good people can serve in government and keep their integrity. Johnny Isakson is always the first example I come to. It’s very often a shocking revelation to most people – that good people can, and often do, serve in government for long periods, fight hard for what they believe in, and remain true to themselves and their principles. And they don’t have to sell their souls to do it. It’s a great lesson, really.”
Isakson’s faith has guided his entire life. He taught sixth-grade Sunday school at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia, for more than 30 years. Isakson is a regular attendee of the weekly Senate prayer breakfast with Senate Chaplain Barry Black and served as co-chair of the National Prayer Breakfast in 2010.
“He was a Sunday school teacher for over 30 years. So here is a man who not only has a biblical worldview, but also knows the bible pretty, pretty thoroughly,” said Chaplain Black. “He has a tremendous amount of contentment, as I have learned to have as well, in the fact that ‘God’s got this.’”
The Senate video includes positive remarks about Isakson’s legacy from Republican and Democrat U.S. senators, an administration official and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, who have each worked closely with Isakson on an array of policy areas.
“Johnny always came to prayer breakfast, and he was always one of the gentlemen who would be there and had an interesting message. Cared about other people and wanted to know what everybody else was doing, and he wanted to know what he could do to help you,” said U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D.
“Goes without saying that Johnny Isakson is hands down the nicest person to ever serve in the U.S. Senate. Nicest person to ever walk the halls of Congress,” said U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.
“He has an innate humility that is so natural,” said U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.
“Johnny Isakson has always appealed to our better angels,” said U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.
“Johnny doesn’t think that just because he has senator in front of his name, that he needs to get anything special,” said U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. “Johnny’s the guy who says, ‘just because I’ve got senator in front of my name, I’ve got work to do,’ and he rolls up his sleeves, and he gets it done.”
“I think if there was a ‘Mr. Congeniality’ award in the U.S. Senate, [Isakson] would win it hands down, no question about it,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.
“There are very few members of the Senate who I feel are as selfless and have smaller egos than Johnny Isakson,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.
“When Johnny said, ‘I’m going to get this done,’ you could believe him, and you’d know it would get done,”said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
“He has an ability to make you feel like he’s not only listening, but caring about what you think. And that is what has always struck me about Johnny Isakson: He listens,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
“Johnny was outspoken for somebody who didn’t have a voice at the table,” said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.
Current and former staff also commented in the video on Isakson’s style as an employer and on his positive outlook. Staff recounted an expression used regularly by Isakson, “Friends and Future Friends,” to explain his outlook on meeting new people and building relationships.
“He wants [the door to his office] open. He wants to see staff, he wants to talk,” said Adam Reece, staff director of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
“He really lives the motto of ‘friends and future friends.’ There’s no enemy to Johnny Isakson,” said former deputy chief of staff Edward Tate.
In his popular commencement address and most frequently requested speech, Isakson shares his “Six Silent Secrets” to a happy, successful and fulling life. The elements of learning, respect, ethics, love, faith and dreaming have served as Isakson’s guiding principles.
“If you’re willing to continue to learn throughout your life, if you’re willing to respect your fellow man and treat everybody with ethics and principle, if you’re willing to love those who’ve gotten you to where you are and are going to take you to where you want to be, if you find a deep and abiding faith that gets you through the difficult times, and if you’re willing dream, you can do anything in America that you want to do,” said Isakson in his 2014 University of Georgia commencement address shown in the video. “Think about this – this is a stadium full of parents; you are their dream and they love you very much.”
After Isakson announced on Aug. 28 that he would be stepping down from the Senate at the end of the year due to mounting health challenges, tributes poured in from newspapers and columnists across Georgia. A few of the headlines illustrative of Isakson’s value-led career included, “Johnny Isakson sets bar high for integrity,” “We could use more Johnny Isaksons in the Senate, not fewer,” “Isakson a politician worth emulating,” and “Johnny Isakson: A true statesman.”
Yarbrough’s Nov. 8 column concluded, “I have written a number of columns over the years about Johnny Isakson. I have been trying to decide how to end this one. Then I remembered a quote the late Hall of Fame baseball player, Roberto Clemente, who said, ‘Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on Earth.’ Johnny, my friend, you have not wasted a day.”