November 11, 1999
have believed it of anyone else, but not George Roche. Since 1971
George Roche III has been president of Michigans Hillsdale College,
a few miles from where I grew up. As the schools dynamic young
president, he turned Hillsdale into a conservative mecca, featuring such
distinguished visiting speakers as Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher,
Milton Friedman, and William F. Buckley Jr., among many others.
Roche was as handsome as an
old-time Hollywood star. I used to kid him about this; he was almost too
handsome, like the smooth guy who is engaged to the heroine until the last
reel, when she realizes she really loves the less polished but more
scrappy hero Spencer Tracy, Jimmy Cagney, or Mickey Rooney.
Roche also raised a beautiful family
with his lovely wife, June. He celebrated the virtues of family life,
patriotism, and the free market. He seemed a model of integrity himself,
refusing to accept government money for Hillsdale while opposing race
and sex quotas. Until last month, his daughter-in-law Lissa Roche worked
for the college, editing its widely circulated newsletter,
Three weeks ago Lissa Roche left her
house, went to the Hillsdale campus, and shot herself. And George
Roches secret life came into the open, consuming him.
George Roche had had an affair with
Lissa Roche his daughter-in-law, his sons wife, his
grandchilds mother while he was married to June. Last
spring he divorced June, after 44 years of marriage. In September he
married a woman named Mary Hagan, stunning Lissa.
When Roche was in the hospital in
October, suffering from diabetes, Lissa visited him and made a scene. He
apparently told her their affair was over and she left distraught. Two days
later she killed herself.
Lissas shattered husband,
George Roche IV, told the whole story to the Hillsdale board of trustees.
Meanwhile, his father had left the hospital and flown to Hawaii for a
honeymoon with his new wife. During the elder Roches absence the
board suspended him, pending his return to give an account of himself.
By now the story had reached the
Michigan and Ohio media, who cackled over the story of the family
values college and its incest scandal. It also shocked the
conservative movement, in which Roche had been a highly respected figure.
Everyone knew George Roche. At least we thought we did.
Roche returned from Hawaii and,
protesting his innocence of any improper conduct, refused to resign. He
pleaded his case before the trustees on November 10, but they
didnt believe him. After 28 years as Hillsdales president,
during which he had become the very symbol of the brave little
independent college, he was forced to resign. After 28 years, one friend
observed, he was leaving the school he had made famous without so much
as a farewell tea party.
Its hard to imagine a more
complete disgrace than George Roches. At the age of 64, the man
who had everything had thrown it all away family, friends, status,
reputation, trust, honor, and the achievement of a lifetime. He had violated
every principle he stood for, every virtue he appeared to embody. He had
betrayed his wife and son and, to a lesser extent, everyone who loved and
It was, and is, almost unbelievable.
The George Roche I thought I knew turns out to be a fiction I must try to
erase from my mind, to be replaced by an object lesson in the diabolically
treacherous power of lust. You can only wonder whether his conscience is
so hardened that hell be able to live with himself.
From my own dealings with Hillsdale
I knew Lissa too, though not as well. She was hardly an innocent victim in
all this; you have to wonder what led her to her own betrayal of her family
and to eventual despair. We can never know now.
Leo Tolstoy once read a newspaper
item about a woman who threw herself before an onrushing train. The
incident inspired his great novel Anna Karenina the
story of a woman who threw her life away for the delusions of romantic
love. Tolstoy knew what we have forgotten: that the moral law is not
mocked, and that the moment comes when even God has no more pity.
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