In the front rows at John Rhodes' funeral in August were some of Arizona's most powerful political figures from the past and present.
They had come to pay their respects to one of the most influential politicians of the 20th century.
Farther back in the pews at the First United Methodist Church in downtown Mesa were people who knew Rhodes as “Johnny,” a friend who never bragged or put on airs of importance.
It is that dichotomy that the organizer of a Web site honoring Rhodes hopes to capture with personal memories from those who knew the 15-term congressman as a politician and a personal friend.
Once they are compiled, the personal recollections will be assembled for inclusion on a separate Web site being organized at Arizona State University, which is the repository for Rhodes' personal papers, said Jay Smith, a Virginia political consultant who worked for Rhodes in the 1970s.
“There are a lot of people whose lives he touched in Arizona and nationally who have stories, recollections, things they might want to share about him,” said Smith, who delivered the eulogy at Rhodes' funeral. “They range from the high and mighty to the average citizen in Mesa who had a personal relationship with him. They're usually personal anecdotes that illustrate some of the themes that go with his legacy.”
Smith has organized http://JohnRhodesmemories.org as the place where people can share their memories.
Rhodes, a Republican, represented Arizona in Congress for 30 years before retiring in 1982. He is credited as a driving force for the Central Arizona Project, which brings Colorado River water to urban areas in central Arizona.
The defining moment of Rhodes' influence on national politics came in 1974, when he accompanied Sens. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., and Hugh Scott, R-Pa., to the White House to advise then-President Richard Nixon that he could not survive an impeachment vote in Congress. Nixon resigned two days later. Rhodes was House minority leader at the time.
Rhodes died of cancer in August at the age of 86.
MaryEllen Smith is preparing the Rhodes collection for the Web site that will be created by the ASU library and archives. MaryEllen Smith, who is not related to Jay Smith, spent several months meeting with Rhodes before his death. In February, the Web site documenting his life will be unveiled, she said.
“One of the things he told me the first time I met him was he didn't want to blow his own horn,” MaryEllen Smith said of Rhodes. “It's interesting how many people, even locally, don't know what he accomplished during his life, which was really amazing.”