Conservative activist, entrepreneur and Republican benefactor Jack Roeser passed away on Friday, aged 90. The sad news spread rapidly among conservatives both in and from Illinois. What was surprising, however, was not the fact that Roeser had passed away–at a ripe age, and after a recent illness–but the fact that he had been so active in politics right through his 80s, backing the Tea Party movement that other party elders had shunned.
When I ran for Congress in 2010, I had the opportunity to spend a day with Roeser at his company’s factory in Carpentersville, Illinois. Jack showed me around the entire Otto Engineering facility, and he knew everything about the manufacturing process for the smallest and most specialized components, many of which are used by our nation’s most sophisticated aviation platforms. Already in his late 80s, he showed no sign of slowing down.
The facility itself was symbolic of Roeser’s commitment to renewal. He had invested in transforming the Civil War-era buildings near the Fox River into facilities that housed high-tech laboratories and corporate meeting rooms. In the same way, Roeser saw the potential of the Tea Party movement to transform the moribund agenda of the Republican Party, and backed conservatives who were willing to challenge the status quo.
A brief anecdote: when Roeser, a well-known opponent of homosexuality, appeared on the host committee for one of my fundraisers with a well-known gay Republican, a campaign aide wondered how we might handle the crisis. But in the end, there was no crisis. Jack was willing to work with people who shared the same vision of limited government, regardless of other differences. He remains a model of leadership for a party in turmoil.