JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Former U.S. Sen. John Danforth has suggested that political bullying led Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich to fatally shoot himself.
Danforth delivered the eulogy Tuesday during a memorial service for Schweich that was attended by many of Missouri's top elected officials and hundreds of others.
Schweich fatally shot himself last Thursday in what police say was an apparent suicide.
Danforth was a close friend, co-worker and political mentor to Schweich, who had planned to run for governor.
Danforth said that in the days before his death, Schweich was upset about a negative radio ad that mocked his appearance and was distraught by what Schweich perceived as an anti-Semitic whispering campaign against him. Schweich was Christian, but had some Jewish ancestry.
Danforth said: ``Words do hurt. Words can kill.''
This is an excerpt from the eulogy:
I last spoke with Tom this past Tuesday afternoon. He was indignant. He told me he was upset about two things, a radio commercial and a whispering campaign he said were being run against him. He said the commercial made fun of his physical appearance and wondered if he should respond with his own ad.
But while the commercial hurt his feelings, his great complaint was about a whispering campaign that he was Jewish. And that subject took up 90 percent of a long phone call. This was more than an expression of personal hurt as with the radio ad, this was righteous indignation against what he saw as a terrible wrong. And what he saw was wrong is anti-Semitism.
He said he must oppose this wrong, that he must confront it publicly by going before the media where he would present several witnesses. He said that they would verify that there were several times when the rumor had been spread.
Tom called this anti-Semitism, and of course it was. The only reason for going around saying that someone is Jewish is to make political profit from religious bigotry. Someone said this was no different than saying a person is a Presbyterian. Here’s how to test the credibility of that remark: When was the last time anyone sidled up to you and whispered into your ear that such and such a person is a Presbyterian?
Tom told me of his Jewish grandfather who taught him about anti-Semitism, and told him that anytime Tom saw it, he had to confront it. So Tom believed that that was exactly what he must do.
There was no hint by Tom that this was about him or his campaign. It was about confronting bigotry.
I told Tom that it is important to combat any whiff of anti-Semitism, but I said that he should not be the public face of doing that. I told him that if he were to go public, the story would be all about him, and not about the evil he wanted to fight. I said that I was concerned about his political future, that his focus should be on winning election as governor, and that the best approach would be to have someone feed the story to the press and let the press run with it.
Tom said that the press would only run with the story if he went public, and that if he didn’t make an issue out of anti-Semitism, no one would.
That was the phone call, except at the end he seemed angry with me.It’s impossible to know the thoughts of another person at such a dire time as suicide, but I can tell you what haunts me. I had always told him to take the high ground and never give it up, and he believed that, and it had become his life. Now I had advised him that to win election he should hope someone else would take up the cause.
He may have thought that I had abandoned him and left him on the high ground, all alone to fight the battle that had to be fought.