A WOMAN WHO MODELED
DIGNITY AND LOYALTY
The death of June Roche brings to a close one of the saddest and most misunderstood episodes in the history of the modern Conservative Movement. It’s one which I am in a position to reflect upon.
Don’t feel bad if you can’t recall the lady’s name. She probably would have preferred that you forget it. But think back 16 years to the great scandal that rocked Hillsdale College.
June was then the ex-wife of George Roche, the college’s longtime president.
In a fit of extreme emotional distress, their daughter-in-law, Lisa, claimed that she had been carrying on an affair with George, icon of Conservative academics. Lisa then took a pistol with her out to a stone gazebo that was (and is) a campus landmark, and shot herself.
Because of Hillsdale’s prominence as a center of traditional liberal arts education and free-market economic thinking, the story — in current parlance — went viral…
Conservative College President in Tryst with Son’s Wife!
…and this was back before the great explosion of social networking.
It was covered by every major news outlet from The New York Times down. It was given extended feature treatment in Vanity Fair. With such exposure in those bastions of East Coast liberal establishment journalism, could Hollywood be left out?
An episode of “Law & Order” adapted the plot. Although, in typical Hollywood style, the college president was painted as a fundamentalist Bible thumper (something George Roche definitely was not).
But of course, to the Tinsel Town Left, that’s the only scenario that could possibly make sense…
There, you see? Those hypocritical rightwing Christians!
The story was actually a good deal more complex. But that made no difference.
A Hillsdale College graduate, Lisa had married George’s son, and made herself indispensable as an aid to her father-in-law. She was a brilliant young woman with gifts as a writer/researcher and superb organizational skills. She stayed in touch with Conservative thinkers all over the world, tracking what they were studying, writing and advocating.
With those contacts, she ran Hillsdale’s renowned seminars and edited the college’s journal, Imprimis. She also ghostwrote most of George Roche’s books (as Public Affairs Director, I penned the op-ed essays we syndicated to some 200 newspapers under his byline).
I spent ample time in the company of George and Lisa, both on campus and traveling. And I can say that nothing I ever saw pass between them suggested sexual interest. What I did see was extreme hero-worship on Lisa’s part and George’s overdependence on his multi-talented daughter-in-law — to an extent that put undo stress on her marriage.
This coincided with much tension between George and his wife, including numerous arguments over subjects to which I was not privy. Eventually, George divorced June.
It’s my belief that Lisa saw this as the moment when she could finally emerge from the shadows, perhaps even assuming a role that might be thought of as châtelaine of the president’s court. It was not to be.
A new wife was on the scene now.
Lisa’s claim of an affair was (in my view) a cry of despair made in the midst of a total emotional breakdown. She was lashing out at her father-in-law, possibly at her husband, and surely at the new wife whose arrival she saw as the obliteration of her dreams.
Hillsdale College suffered declines in student enrollment and financial support. Dishonor and lingering uncertainty prompted the Board of Trustees to remove George. He retired to a mountain lodge in his native Colorado. But, interestingly, June continued to live in Hillsdale.
She has always been thought of as the widow of George Roche, even though (because of the divorce) that designation was not technically correct. I’m sure she bore much hurt and disappointment over the collapse of her marriage. But she never showed it to me. And in the years since George’s death in 2006, June worked to keep alive recognition of her ex-husband’s unique achievements.
George Roche led what had been an obscure Midwest business school to a position of national visibility, academic renown, and political influence. Much like Ronald Reagan, he was able to forge a broad constituency from among the many strands of thought within the Conservative Movement. That his life work should end in tragedy and scandal was a great pain to many people who believed deeply in the school’s mission and ideals (myself among them).
Under a new administration Hillsdale has recovered dramatically. Inspiringly, even.
June Roche lived to see that, and I’m sure it was gratifying to her. Through it all, this good-natured lady modeled a quiet dignity and an unyielding loyalty to the husband at whose side she had stood during long years of hard work and accomplishment, as well as to the institution in whose progress she’d had a hand.
Rest in Peace, June Roche.
The scandal at Hillsdale College sent shockwaves through the Conservative Movement. Here’s how National Review, the flagship Conservative journal founded by William F. Buckley, Jr., a frequent Hillsdale speaker, reported on it in 1999…
A brief obituary of June Roche is available online at…