The final two decades of Joe Sobran’s life, Fran Griffin did us kindly by serving as Joe’s publisher.

Before then, for many years Joe had been published by National Review, but Buckley began pressuring Joe to shut up about Israel. Eventually he took Joe to lunch and tried to get him to agree to stop criticizing Israel’s domestic and foreign policies.

Joe declined. Referring to the Jews who supported conservative causes, by Joe’s account, Buckley’s final rejoinder that day was, “Joe, we need these people.”

Joe wasn’t to be bought.

In National Review, Buckley smeared both Joe Sobran and Pat Buchanan as anti-Semitic. From that day on, I never read National Review. Some might call this foolish consistency, but loyalty means a lot to me.

Something about the enemy of my friend is my enemy. If you’ve been reading here recently, you know how dogged my defense of J. Oliver Buswell has been in the face of Phil Ryken smearing him as a racist. Buswell was a faithful father to my own father, and he himself opposed racism.

Attacking men as “racist” or “anti-Semitic” is so cowardly. Precisely how does one defend himself against such smears? Especially if one has been dead for decades.

Back to Sobran, after their lunch, Buckley went back to his office and sent a fax informing Joe he was fired from National Review.

By God’s grace, in the years to come, a godly Roman Catholic woman began serving as Joe’s publisher, and ever since I have loved her for it. Never had the privilege of meeting Miss Griffin (or Miss Johnson), but Fran sends out things occasionally, and this one came this week. It’s such a fine tribute! Make sure you read it. (The leading picture is of Pat Buchanan, Fran Griffin, and Joe Sobran.)

There are many Roman Catholics whose faith is true. I wish I had known Miss Johnson. May she rest in peace.

Willa Ann Johnson, R.I.P.,
Reaganite, Sobran’s friend, conservative luminary
by Fran Griffin
March 7, 2024

FGF Books, 3/7/2024 — Willa Ann Johnson, a lifelong principled conservative activist, a key member of the Reagan Revolution, an ardent pro-life Catholic, and a good friend of both Joe Sobran and Samuel T. Francis, went to her eternal reward on February 25. She was 81 years old.

In the early 1960s, Willa become a Roman Catholic, which shaped her life from that time forward. In 1964, she worked tirelessly on the Goldwater for President campaign. Undeterred by the landslide victory of Lyndon Johnson, Willa worked as a legislative assistant on Capitol Hill for conservative Members of Congress for several years.

Her talents did not go unnoticed. In 1971, she was named senior vice president of the newly-formed Heritage Foundation, helping to get that organization launched into the prominence it now has. She became the director of Heritage’s Resource Bank, assisting numerous conservative organizations in developing winning strategies to advance a conservative agenda nationwide.

Within weeks of the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, Willa was speedily recruited as a key member of his administration. She became the director of the White House Office of Presidential Personnel – a position perfect for both her and our country as she was instrumental in placing conservatives in key positions in the Reagan Administration.

But Willa, a loyal Reaganite, was a conservative visionary who wanted to do more. She keenly perceived the great need to combat the millions of dollars of money that was being poured into left-wing causes. In 1984, she founded the Capital Research Center, “America’s investigative think tank,” which exposes leftist foundations, unions, environmentalist groups and left-leaning advocacy organizations. Its purpose was and is to bolster private philanthropy and to alert donors about the activities and agendas of so-called public political advocacy organizations. CRC continues today to protect our freedoms by exposing the power-seeking interests that oppose our nation’s founding principles – thanks to Willa’s idea to launch the organization.

To know Willa was to quickly realize that she was a devout Catholic who took her faith seriously. Having achieved much success as a conservative activist, ardent pro-life advocate, and national leader, she aspired to do more. In her 10th year as President of the Capital Research Center, she resigned her position – and then did a baffling thing. She sold her house, gave away all her money to charitable causes, donated all her possessions, and decided to live as a homeless person on the streets of Washington, D.C.! Like St. Francis of Assisi who abandoned all his possessions to do God’s will; and St. Catherine of Siena who secluded herself for three years, and then, inspired by Our Lord, walked on foot from Italy to Avignon, France, to tell the pope to come back to Rome — and similar to many religious monks and hermits throughout the centuries — Willa spent much of her time in prayer at churches, and in contemplating Our Lord’s will for her. What she learned during that time, and what she did for others no one will ever know. Eventually she was persuaded to return to the “real” world. In 2004 she left the streets to take a job at the Clare Boothe Luce Center for Conservative Women, where she again promoted conservative principles and also mentored young conservative women. After a few years she retired and quietly lived out the rest of her life.

From the time of her conversion to Catholicism, Willa embraced the life of a devout single Catholic. She never married, but was a devoted aunt to her niece and nephew. Willa was uncompromising in her principles. She was brilliant and soft-spoken, ever determined to fight battles for the survival of our country. She loved her Savior and, as a result, exhibited kindness, love, and warmth to everyone she encountered, including this unworthy writer.

May this humble and worthy soul rest in peace.


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