Earlier this year an obituary for the late Mary Anne Noland of Richmond, Virginia, was published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper. It stated, “Faced with the prospect of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Mary Anne Noland of Richmond chose, instead, to pass into the eternal love of God on Sunday, May 15, 2016, at the age of 68.” And Noland’s obituary is not unique. For example, an obituary for Ernest Overbey Jr., also of Richmond, ended with a request to “please vote for Donald Trump.” Similarly, the obituary for Katherine Michael Hinds, of Auburn, Alabama, suggested that “in lieu of flowers, do not vote for Donald Trump.”
Politics being important to someone, even after their death, is also not unique to the current election cycle. This became evident to me on a recent bike ride to Rock Creek Cemetery, located at 201 Allison Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Michigan Park neighborhood. There I saw the unusual grave marker for someone named Paul Raymond Tully. Aside from his name, and the dates of his birth and death, it simply read, “A Democrat.” This, combined with the appearance of the grave marker itself, compelled me to want to look into who he was, and why instead of sentiments like “Loving Husband” or “Devoted Father” or “Faithful Friend”, he was simply described by his political party affiliation.
Tully was born on May 14, 1944, in New York City, the son of working-class parents. He graduated from Yale and received a law degree at the University of Pennsylvania. But he then chose a career in politics rather than the law. However, he did not run for office himself. Nor was he the type of man who would eventually take some cushy political appointment in a Democratic administration. His lifelong work involved the political process, and getting a democrat elected president. Obsessed for more than two decades, he pursued this goal, thinking only a Democratic president could do the things he thought were needed to establish equity in American society.
Tully was only 48 years old when he died on September 24, 1992, in a hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he had just moved. The coroner stated that he appeared to have died of natural causes, speculating that it was most likely a heart attack or stroke. However, it is officially listed as unknown causes because no autopsy was allowed.
At the time of his death Tully was Director of Political Operations for the Democratic National Committee. With his roots in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, he had been closely associated with some of its most prominent figures, including Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, and Senators Gary Hart of Colorado, Walter F. Mondale of Minnesota and George McGovern of South Dakota, as well as former governor Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts. One of his party’s pre-eminent strategists, Tully had worked in every presidential campaign since 1968. And you may have already deduced from the place and timing of his death, at the time of died he was also key aide in the presidential campaign of Governor Bill Clinton.
The bronze memorial sculpture which serves as Tully’s headstone was designed by his eldest daughter, Jessica Tully. She created the nearly four and a half foot tall bronze and granite memorial, and worked with the Del Sol Foundry in California to cast and assemble the project. It consists of three elements. First, a representation of the wooden work chair from his home. On the chair is a folded copy of the New York Times from November 4, 1992, announcing the election of President Clinton. Lastly, there are two of his ubiquitous coffee cups, one for him and the other for whomever he would have been talking with, usually but not always about politics. The sculpture was not completed until more than a decade after his passing, and was unveiled at event on May 3, 2014, near what would have been his 70th birthday.
When I first saw it I just knew there would be an interesting story behind this unusual grave marker. And I was right. And after learning about the man, I can’t help but wonder what he would think of the current election.