The March 9 edition of the Washington Post carried the sad news of the death of Congressman Amory Houghton of Corning, NY.
Congressman Houghton, known as “Amo” to his friends, was a principal heir to the Corning Corporation of Corning, NY. Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, Amo hung up his spurs at the Corning Corp. at age 60 and turned his life toward public service by running for Congress. His father and grandfather had served as Ambassadors in retirement. Amo was elected to Congress in his first attempt in 1987 and served 9 terms representing his western New York constituency.
I met him in 1994 when I was serving as the Escort Officer for a Congressional delegation, led by Atlanta Congressman John Lewis, that went to South Africa to encourage voter participation in the first multiracial elections that were to bring Nelson Mandela to the Presidency. Congressman Lewis founded the Voter Education Program that registered some 2 million black people to vote in our country after the passage of our 1964 Voting Rights legislation so we thought him to be ideally suited to speak about voter participation as South Africa moved toward their 1994 elections.
The delegation led by Congressman Lewis included but two white people: Congress Houghton and me. In a wonderful aside, Congressman Houghton asked me why I thought that a white honkey like him was on this trip. He said all knew that I was along because I had been given the assignment but he said that he was included because Congressman Lewis had asked him to join the delegation and there would never be anything that Congressman Lewis might ask of him that he would refuse, adding that he considered Congressman Lewis one of the very best people who had ever served in our 435 member Congress.
Amory Houghton was a fiscally conservative and socially moderate patriot whose life experience included international service to our country as a US Marine 1944-46, when he enlisted after completing high school, and later doing business in Southern Africa securing the chromium ore needed for glass production.
During their joint service in Congress, he and John Lewis became fast friends and allies.
It turned out that South Africans needed little encouragement to vote in the 1994 elections. So many people turned up at the polls that the election carried on for three days. But the publicity generated by Congressman Lewis’s delegation no doubt contributed to their peaceful and immensely successful conduct.
In retirement I went on to serve as the Senior International Officer for the sixty-four campus State University of New York of which Corning Community College, founded by the Houghton family, is a member. While visiting Corning in 1990 I saw a poster announcing that Congressmen Lewis and Houghton would be appearing on campus the next day to speak about race relations in our country. These fine men were still at their fruitful collaboration this time in western New York instead of South Africa.
John Lewis and Amory Houghton dedicated their lives to working together across political aisles to make our world a better place. Their success is a vital part of our political legacy that we need to recall these days.
Ambassador Robert Gosende served 35 years as a Foreign Service Officer in the U.S. Information Agency and the Department of State. He was President Clinton’s Special Envoy for Somalia during the height of the security and humanitarian crisis in that country in 1992-93. In 1998 Ambassador Gosende was appointed Special Assistant to the Chancellor for International Programs at State University for New York (SUNY), and from 2001 to 2010 served as Associate Vice Chancellor for International Programs.