In Memoriam – Joe Overton
Thoughtful notes of condolence and tribute to our beloved colleague Joseph P. Overton have been pouring in from virtually every state and many countries. All have been heartfelt and much appreciated. Below is a representative sample of the very personal ones.
Joe Overton's tragic death is a tremendous loss for all those who love liberty. Joe was a man who invested his life working for a state and a nation that would provide every individual greater hope and opportunity. His death leaves a great void for his family and friends, but also for those people who never met him but who benefited from his unswerving commitment to advance their liberty and protect their families.
Edwin J. Feulner, President
The Heritage Foundation
He was such a wonderful person and committed libertarian. Just a day or two ago we received a very nice note from him complimenting Cato on the two citations we had in the Supremes' decision on the Texas sodomy law. That's the way he was -- no turf wars, just a passion for liberty he shared with us all.
Edward H. Crane, President and CEO
The Cato Institute
Joe championed issues of critical interest to taxpayers in Michigan and elsewhere, such as education reform and privatization. Joe also worked to strengthen the Mackinac Center by building an effective staff and a nationwide network of colleagues. He will be missed by many, including myself and the staff of Americans for Tax Reform. Our movement draws upon the talents of many. Joe contributed thoughtful analysis, leadership, and the ability to manage a growing, effective organization. These talents speak to his character, which is irreplaceable.
Grover Norquist, President
Americans for Tax Reform
Joe was a great guy. This is a tragedy and a terrible loss.
Adrian Moore, Executive Director
Reason Public Policy Institute
Joe was a great man -- a true friend of liberty. I'm honored to have known him. And I know that your job at Mackinac will be immensely more difficult now that you no longer have his skills and wisdom to assist you.
Chairman, Economics Department, George Mason University
Joe Overton was a fantastic person. Both smart AND wise. A very bright light and a heckuva nice guy. What a loss to all who knew him and all who care about freedom.
Founder, U.S. Term Limits
My colleagues and I at the John Locke Foundation are horrified and deeply saddened by Joe’s passing. It came as a great shock, I am sure, to the entire free-market community.
John Hood, President
John Locke Foundation
Raleigh, North Carolina
Joe combined his open smile and relaxed attitude with the discipline needed to run an organization and to reach his personal goals. And that seems to me an accomplishment. I have met many disciplined and successful men whose hard edge was somehow always visible.
Director of Student Outreach
Foundation for Economic Education
Sorry he's gone, he was a good man. The Lord can always use good help.
(Mr. Headlee led the 1978 voter initiative that capped Michigan taxes.)
It is a such a loss for the cause for freedom, of which you have always been in the vanguard.
Tim Goeglein, Deputy Director
Office of Public Liaison
The White House
We are so sorry to hear about Joe. I can't get over my sadness.
Chief Economist at Comerica Bank
Sorry for the loss of a good man.
Michigan Superintendent of Public Education
I’m sorry for this loss of a good thinker with a passion for public policy ideas. I’ll keep him, his colleagues and his family in our thoughts and prayers.
Chief of Staff, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm Transition Team
My heart is bursting, wanting to share with the world, memories of the Joe I knew--not the button-down Joe who so effectively did absolutely everything he set out to do, but the warm, endearing, thoughtful, sensitive, and sometimes wacky, Joe. The Joe who took relationships so seriously that he entered into them with thoughtfulness and prayer, including the very first steps of his relationship with his beloved Helen. The Joe who caught lightning bugs and frogs with me in the U.P. The Joe who took off his shoes and socks and jumped in grass clippings just to feel their coolness on a hot summer day. The Joe who loved to sing in the car. The Joe who stuck his head through my sunroof and screamed at the top of his lungs (while he was driving!) because he was so happy that we had won an education reform victory.
Senior Advisor on Family Educational Rights
Office of Innovation and Improvement
U.S. Department of Education
Freedom has lost one of its great friends.
John J. Miller
National Review Magazine
Terrible, terrible, terrible! It quite terrible and tragic to learn of Joe's untimely death. I met him when I attended Mackinac Center last year and held passionately the idea of free society and less and less role for the government.
Thompson Ayodele, Coordinator
Institute of Public Policy Analysis
Joe was not only an outstanding thinker and leader at Mackinac an in the state of Michigan but he was one of the great inspirers and intellectuals who had world reach. I will continue to implement many of his bright ideas and good examples in my country-Mongolia. I have known Joe since last spring's leadership training at Mackinac. It was truly amazing how brilliant his personality was, how exceptional a leader he was. He was loved by all participants of that conference and his co-workers. His friendliness, his wisdom and his leadership cheered us all. I am confident that our common loss of our great friend Joe will unite us more for our common purpose of serving our nations.
Former Prime Minister
It is indeed a sad loss not only for Mackinac but also for IREN Staff who had the honor and opportunity to be at his feet to learn ideas on leadership and administration. At the Inter Region Economic Network [Kenya] in particular, the loss comes at a time when we were looking forward to importing his skills in our forthcoming all Africa Meeting. Joseph has been a champion for IREN Kenya, he has made our name feature at the Philanthropy Roundtable, and his ideas have been instrumental in the successes we make as managers of new think tanks in Africa and the world.
I am pleased to announce that we are naming our leadership training program that we shall launch next year after Joe. My colleagues and I here are beneficiaries of his wisdom, personal attention, and good work. This program will run once or twice annually on a model similar to that of the Mackinac Center’s, utilizing your organization’s manual and Joe’s lecture material.
The Joseph P. Overton Leadership Center will help introduce African youth and other future leaders to ideas on freedom and how to effectively manage institutions like think tanks that advance liberty. This center will be committed to the excellence that Joe taught us and will draw participants from all over the continent. Joe Overton has just lit a fire that will, in time, carry a message of liberty and hope to millions who might not otherwise ever hear it.
James Shikwati, Director
Inter Region Economic Network
I am greatly shocked to learn about the passing away of Mr. Josph P. Overton in the accident.To me, he had been such a wonderful person. I still remember that he had very good skill at handling chopstick in my friend, Mr.Wong's family, he played badminton and snooker while you were here, and played piano in my home in 1988....He just very very friended to me, he show me around in Midland invited me dinner.... Needless to say, his sudden passing is an immense loss not only to his family, but also to your company. Let me assure at this bitter moment that I feel greatly for you, and that his friendship and loyalty will be forever cherished. May the peace always with him. If possible, please pass my deepest condolences to his family.
This is a loss to the world for the ideas and inspiration that Joe will no longer generate. Joe still had so much to give in so many areas and the loss is just huge.
Atlas Economic Research Foundation
Joe was the person who taught us a lot of things, the four days I met him in
Chennai (India) changed my life. The way I see things today all changed, I
owe all this to Joe Overton. The libertarian attitude will be there in my
heart and we members from Friends of Freedom, Mangalore Chapter, will
always remember him.
Friends of Freedom
Although I only knew Joe for four years, he had a great impact on me.
Former summer intern, Mackinac Center for Public Policy
Law Clerk - CGSH
All the friends of Mackinac around the world will miss him. I still remember my first meeting with him in Costa Rica at the leadership workshop.
Michel, Patrick and I are deeply saddened to hear about Joe’s passing. Our thoughts are with you.
Directeur des publications / Director of Publications
Institut économique de Montréal / Montreal Economic Institute
Joe was your co-leader. He shared your burden. Now you know that for a time you must carry the vision without him. But God will surely pass to you the strength and the talent to be able to toil at a task that previously you would have found impossible. And that is where Joe will look down and smile - for he will know that through his passing you were called, challenged and enabled to step up to an even greater level of leadership.
Greg Fleming, Managing Director
Auckland, New Zealand
While being a research associate with the Centre for Civil Society, New Delhi, I met Joe at the National Conference on Primary Education. His talk there revealed the passionate person beneath the staid exterior I had first seen.
The following week he helped us with the Liberty & Society Seminar in Madras. Engaging students and experts alike in the cause for freedom, here was a person who was driven by the strong ideals of liberty he believed in. I saw a good Christian who was just as passionate about living life to the fullest. Listening to Joe talk about his escapades across the world, talking to students, or discussing political economy, each moment spent with him was a lesson. He reminded me it was as important to be a committed Christian and a good person devoted to family. He embodied the person I wanted to be - a truly good person and a committed champion of freedom.
When I took up my assignment teaching political science, Joe reminded me of the pivotal role I would play in "influencing young minds to
think critically about political economy." I might have spent just a week with Joe, but the lessons I have learnt from him will inspire me for a lifetime.
Lecturer, Department of Political Science
Madras Christian College
It seems just a while ago, the four days I got to spend with Joe Overton at Chennai for the Liberty & Society Seminar in December 2001. It was not just his manner, his iron clad reasoning or devastating argument served with a charming smile that caught our fancy, but the person he was, the extend to which he went to drive home a fine point, the sensitivity and finesse with which he handled certain discussions with which some of the participants were uncomfortable.. and boy, his lecture on private and political markets.. we loved him the very first day and ever since.
What comes to my mind when I hear the manner of the trajedy is the night, after a long day of lectures, we had gone to the beach where Joe played guitar and when we came back, decided to play some games in his room.
All of the players were supposed to say three facts about themselves two of which is false. Others were supposed to guess which is right. When after many rounds, Joe's turn came, He said.." I own a music system, I own a TV, I own an aircraft.. which is true..?" Half of the players guessed TV, others went for music system. Then with that raise of an eyebrow and a full smile charecteristic of him, he said: " No friends, I own an aircraft" Then on our request, he told us everything about his plane, so passionately, one could sense the excitement of a teenage flying enthusiast. I remember feeling jealous.
Joe was a star faculty at our seminar. He also set standards that I seldom find met by many speakers. We in India will definitely miss him as a comrade-in-arms. But we shall definitely try and achive what he lived for in such an illustrious manner.
Sruthijith K K
Centre for Civil Society
I was deeply saddened by the news of Joseph P. Overton's death. In my
view he was an outstanding "mouvement builder" and a very friendly and
Liberales Institut, Switzerland
Energy, optimism, and the exuberant pleasure of running with ideas, and making the ideas live—this is how we see Joe. And it is how we will remember him.
Brian Lee Crowley, President
Atlantic Institute for Market Studies
Halifax, Nova Scotia
When he came to India, he helped convert some skeptics about private education and spoke at the Liberty & Society Seminar in Chennai. Students really loved him. Actually it was at that time that my mother passed away and I had to leave the seminar on the second day and Joe pulled the weight for the remaining two days. He actually gave my talk that he had always loved, on private and political markets.
Dr. Parth J. Shah, President
Centre for Civil Society
New Delhi, India
(See the CSC's tribute to Joe Overton on their website, www.ccsindia.org. Among other features the tribute contains a page of photos of Joe's trip to India in 2001.)
We are deeply saddened. Joe was a big hit when he came to Winnipeg a few years ago. Our thoughts are with you all at the Mackinac Center.
Peter Holle, President
Frontier Centre for Public Policy
Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada
Joe was a stellar example – in his passion for the ideas, his integrity, his disciplined thinking and actions, his eagerness to serve. He leaves a powerful legacy at Mackinac and the other state think tanks. I remember when Joe first started at Mackinac over a decade ago… he will be deeply missed, but his life of impact is to be imitated, and celebrated.
Tracie J. Sharp
State Policy Network
Joe was the first person I met at the first think tank function I attended. His smile, always slow to appear, but always worth the wait, put me at ease. His patience in asking and answering questions provided as much useful information in ten minutes as what I'd learn during the entire event. Joe managed to address and invigorate those things that had seemed so obvious, but were in fact most important because we'd assumed they were obvious. He did it with grace, completely oblivious to the people inching forward in their seats so that they might not miss a syllable of what he was sharing.
When the Roe Award was presented to Joe I think he was surprised. As he made his acceptance remarks I remember thinking that he truly embodied the many things I admired about Tom Roe. Gifted and generous. Modest to a fault. Eager to acknowledge and thank the people he worked with. Energetic and enthusiastic about what he did, leaving those who were fortunate enough to be around him, much the better.
I for one know that I never thanked Joe for all he did or the way that he did it. Joe was kind, courageous, unassuming and effective in a way we can only hope to emulate. His knowledge and organizational skills were shared in ways that were useful and inspiring. Jo Kwong sent me something after Tom Roe's death that applies as perfectly to Joe Overton as it did to Tom:
“Every once in a while, we meet people who make an immeasurable difference and Joe was certainly one of them.”
Former President of the State Policy Network
Such a large gap is left by Joe's death. Those who knew Joe (if they had any sense) benefited by his remarkable efficiency and organization. I regularly find myself nowadays approaching the details of organization in a way that shows Joe's influence. He was a perfectionist, and he was remarkably accurate in what he suggested and how he wanted things done. On organizational issues, I came away having to admit that he was usually right and I was usually wrong when I disagreed with him. He had these very positive traits-(1) he never asked us to do anything he himself wasn't willing to do, (2) he evaluated work completed very fairly and objectively-he never, never held grudges, (3) he always put the success of the Mackinac Center above personal ambition. He also was an extremely conscientious and able worker.
Burton Folsom, Jr.
currently Historian in Residence
Center for the American Idea, The Free Enterprise Institute
His contributions to our movement have been enormous and the finest tribute we can pay to Joe will be to continue with increased devotion our efforts to advance freedom in all of its forms.
J. Stanley Marshall
Founding Chairman and CEO
James Madison Institute, Tallahassee, Florida
Joe answered a lot of my questions over the years. His smile was warm, and he was unfailingly polite and gracious. Joe’s wisdom, persistence and integrity live on in those of us who have gleaned from his generosity. He leaves a legacy at Mackinac that will serve that fine organization well into the future. How can you say good-bye to someone like Joe Overton? I’m not going to say good-bye to Joe; not really. I’ll just say, “We’ll carry on for you, friend, and I’ll see you later.”
Lynn Harsh, Executive Director
Evergreen Freedom Foundation
Joe was a bright light in the free market think tank movement. He will be missed by all of us.
Steve Buckstein, President
Cascade Policy Institute
At a time like this--when one yearns to say something helpful, with meaning--I am reminded of a story about Abraham Joshua Heschel, and his paying repsects to a widow. As the story goes, he flew across country to attend the "shiva" (Jewish period of mourning), sat next to the widow for several hours without hardly saying a word, then got up, said goodbye, and left. When questioned later about his somewhat strange behavior, he remarked that there were no words to describe what he felt at that shiva; the only thing he could do was sit there with the deceased's widow, "to be with her."
In a similar sense, I am speechless about Joe's death, and can only imagine how profoundly this must be affecting the Mackinac "family." For what it's worth, I am sitting "shiva" with you now, albeit from a distance.
Allen Gorin, Chapter Leader
The focus, communication, leadership, organizational and motivational skills of Joe were without peer. But, leader that he was, he was superior at documenting and otherwise passing on his talents. He lives on in legacy. Lets all do what he wants; work hard to build on that framework.
Richard O. Rowland, President
Grassroots Institute of Hawaii
I was so impacted by Joe's presentations during the Mackinac Center leadership conference.
Margaret Ann Hoenig
Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs
"For every thousand men who thrash at the branches of a tree, there is one who strikes at the root." Henry David Thoreau
Joe clearly understood the link between liberty and prosperity. And he dedicated his life to advancing liberty. We at the Rio Grande Foundation admired Joe for his cordial, focused, and business-like commitment to freedom. He was always willing to give us benefit of his wisdom accompanied by words of encouragement. Visitors to this site who are not familiar with Joe need only explore www.mackinac.org to appreciate the breadth and depth of his talent and commitment. In the words of Mackinac’s president Larry Reed: “Virtually everything Joe did, and virtually every one of the brilliant ideas he came up with to advance the cause of liberty, was aimed at precisely what Thoreau would have advised, namely, striking at the root.” Joe’s inspiration remains with us at Rio Grande Foundation. We will redouble our effort in advancing liberty. And we will do so by striking at the root.
Harry Messenheimer, Ph.D.
President, Rio Grande Foundation
Tijeras, NM 87059
He was such a wonderful and talented young man that it is inconceivable to think of him no longer being with us. It is a terrible loss for the Mackinac Center and for all of us engaged in the battle to preserve liberty.
Sally C. Pipes, President & CEO
Pacific Research Institute
The Mackinac staff are in our hearts and prayers.
Public Relations Associate
Pacific Research Institute
San Francisco, California
Former intern, Mackinac Center for Public Policy
What a shock to learn of Joe's untimely and tragic death. We extend to his immediate family and his broader family at Mackinac our heartfelt condolences.
Lew Uhler, President
National Tax Limitation Committee
Many people have described Joe Overton over the last two days as a man of unusual principle, which he was, of course. But I always thought of him simply as a rock. As a gem of a rock. And as solid and gracious a gentleman as I've ever known in public life.
Mitch Pearlstein, President
Center of the American Experiment
The Mackinac Center is a leader and mentor to the entire national if not global free market movement. And Joe epitomized everything admirable about the Mackinac Center and, through his faith in Christ, he epitomized every admirable quality of mankind in its fallen state. Joe was dedicated to truth. He was an advocate for Christ and for limited government but clearly understood which was more important. Joe was such a wonderful example for everyone who knew him. We should all redidicate ourselves to taking the example of Joe's life to heart, living out all the qualities we admired in him, and understanding God's purpose for us.
Judson & Associates
San Antonio, TX
The first time I ever spoke with Joe was to congratulate him on a letter he had written to the News or Free Press on private homeowner's associations. Joe seemed surprised that I remembered the letter since he wrote it with one purpose in mind - to change how the reporter thought about the issue. The fact that it got run seemed to matter little to him, except in how it changed people's thinking about concensual contractual relationships versus the arbitrariness of government zoning. It seemed that most of my talks with Joe focused on the topic of how best to change people's hearts and minds. He always took the time to let me know when I could have made an argument in a more effective way.
Director of Research
Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions
I can only begin to imagine how devasting and traumatic Joe Overton's loss is to the staff at Mackinac. I am fortunate that I was able to meet Joe through your excellent Leadership Development program. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your colleagues.
Gregg Edwards, President
Center for Policy Research of New Jersey
What a blow to our movement.
Board Member, Evergreen Freedom Foundation and Washington Policy Center
Joe was not only a colleague that I held in high esteem, but also a brother in faith.
Gary Palmer, President
Alabama Policy Institute
He's a great man and he will be missed. And he'll be in my prayers.
Joshua Mercer, Director of Student Publications
The Leadership Institute
Former intern, Mackinac Center for Public Policy
The first night I met Joe he made such an impact on me as to the importance of the movement I have become involved in. All my political views and feelings made so much more sense to me after I spoke to him. I am sure he will be greatly missed at Mackinac but I will also miss him for his enthusiasm and knowledge.
formerly with the Goldwater Instituter
For nearly 12 years Joe helped Mackinac become one of the premier state based think tanks in the country. Our thoughts are with his wife, Helen, our good friends at Mackinac, and the people of Michigan, who lost a friend of freedom.
Jon Caldara, President
Joe was more than generous with his time and expertise during the few trips I made up to Midland to learn from your organization's successes.
Tom Prichard, President
Minnesota Family Council
He was such a good and I will always remember him for the way he addressed the Leadership Conference attendees. He eminated a quiet decency that I found tremendously compelling. At the Heritage and SPN gartherings, Joe always sought me out, going out of his way to make a newcomer like me feel right at home. I enjoyed those chats in ways that I now find hard to express. In short, I admired Joe a great deal and sincererly strived to be like him. I still do. I am terribly sorry to have lost such a positive role-model.generous soul; everything about him seemed to speak of integrity.
The Liberty Institute
I have said prayers for the happy repose of his soul (we Catholics think it is Scriptural, you know) and peace for his family and friends.
Alliance for the Separation of School & State
I only met Joe at the leadership Conference a few years ago. On that one weekend I had the opportunity to notice his drive and passion for not only the Mackinac Center, but for the mission of freedom and liberty for all with whom he came in contact.
Jeff Edgens, Professor
University of Kentucky
Know that Joe’s family, friends and colleagues are in our thoughts and prayers.
Jeff Fink, Chief Operating Officer
Alabama Policy Institute
Joe was truly an extraordinary individual, professionally and personally. His influence is apparent in everything I do as President of The Buckeye Institute. Indeed, the Buckeye Institute”s success and future growth will be one of Joe”s legacies. His dedication to principle, pursuit of the highest quality, and dedication to freedom and the constructive role of think tanks were hallmarks of his professionalism and character. His passing has created one of my few regrets in life. I did not come to know the full dimensions of Joe”s passion, empathy, dedication, and character until very recently. I first met Joe when we shared a hotel room at a Heritage Foundation Resource Bank meeting. To be frank, even though we were about the same age, I was intimidated-his intelligence, wit, and incisiveness humbled me. Over the years, as I worked with him on project after project, I began to learn more about the man that filled the shoes of the Mackinac Center”s chief political strategist. I found the man far more enriching than the skilled analyst or highly professional manager. I still had so much to learn from him.
Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D., President
The Buckeye Institute
I liked Joe very much and I really liked his enthusiasm for our work in the freedom movement. He really cared and all who knew him understood him best for his caring attitude. He will be missed by all of us.
Professor M. Gene Aldridge
New Mexico Independence Research Institute, Inc.
Joe's love for liberty would be difficult to match.
Matthew J. Brouillette, President
It's one thing to lose a colleague or a friend, but Joe was your brother, your fellow warrior, your "wing man," your confidante, your best friend.
Mississippi Family Institute
What an incredible loss! Everything about Joe Overton spoke quality.
Focus on the Family
Joe was a friend to so many in the movement. The Mackinac Center has graciously opened their doors to share their experience and skill across the globe, as we fight our own battles for a better society. It was easy to just call or email Joe and “pick his brain.” His kindness must be passed along, and will never be forgotten. Joe was a warrior and will missed.
JC Bowman, Executive Director
Center for Education Innovation
Florida State University
It was about 13 years ago that I first met Joe Overton in the then-recently freed Nicaragua. Joe and Larry Reed were visiting Managua following the ouster of the Sandinistas. We met up to celebrate the socialist loss, and see what we could do to promote an authentic vision of the free society.
In those days I discovered a bright young man who exuded optimism. Joe’s command of how a free society functions (or can be made to dysfunction) was exceeded only by his deep, personal and confident faith in the message of love and redemption Jesus Christ brought to the world. Joe and I were comrades not only in our shared conviction of the moral and practical necessity of a free economy within a virtuous society, we were also comrades, indeed brothers, in the Faith.
Rev. Robert Sirico, President
Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty
Already in heaven no doubt, Joe has left a huge vacuum here on Earth.
Christopher Smith, Executive Director
Internet Education Exchange (iEdx)
Joe was a thoughtful listener and a gifted leader--fair, wise, able and deeply committed to the cause of freedom. I also remember him sharing with us his excitement about his upcoming marriage. Joe was admired by all who knew him. I considered him my friend from the first moment I met him.
Adam Meyerson, President
The Philanthropy Roundtable
Joe's untimely passing is a sadness beyond words.
Tom Atwood, President
National Council For Adoption
When I met him in 1999, he was demonstrating through his work at Mackinac the value of bringing strong business skills to the movement for liberty. His efforts and his partnership with Larry Reed were inspiring. His leadership was significant and will be missed.
Joe's commitment to individual liberty and the rule of law led him to many corners of the world. In 2001 Joe personally brought the Mackinac Center to the assistance of the Arvon Township school board in the Copper Country of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, as it struggled to overcome the obstacles to the survival of a small rural district and to improve the quality of education.
I first met Joe during my service as 110th district state representative in 1991-92, when he and his Mackinac Center colleagues provided critical assistance to a novice legislator. To borrow a phrase from the English, Joe Overton is “gone before but not fogot” by those who share his untiring commitment to individual liberty.
Stephen P. Dresch, Ph.D.
President, Forensic Intelligence International
I know that Joe is looking down on you from heaven and smiling. Keep him in your heart.
Ms. Colleen Dyble
Associate Director of Institute Relations
Atlas Economic Research Foundation
Among Atlas circles, it is a common refrain to say that every institute needs a Joe Overton to create a culture of excellence and to provide real leadership toward the vision embraced by Joe and his colleagues at Mackinac.
Atlas Economic Research Foundation Website
I know the Mackinac family has lost a dear member.
The Detroit News
Joe was a tremendous teacher. So many of the beliefs that I hold true today came from discussions with Joe during my internship. He was tremendously patient with me as I struggled with my first "real" job and tried to find what I wanted to do with my life. I don”t know that I would”ve chosen a career in promoting liberty and freedom had it not been for his counsel.
Director of Operations
The Buckeye Institute of Ohio
Former intern, Mackinac Center for Public Policy
It's a blow to the freedom movement and a great personal loss as well.
The freedom movement will certainly feel the loss of his presence, but it also moves forward strengthened and better prepared because of the many significant contributions he made in the short time that he was here with us.
School Reform News
The Mackinac Center has lost one of its leaders. We have all lost a man who "ran the good race" and "fought the good fight" for freedom. It is so tragic when a man with that much talent and apparently so much future ahead of him dies so relatively young.
The loss of Joe Overton to the free-market movement is so great that I can think of nothing similar with which I can compare it. At our twice-annual Mackinac Center Leadership Conferences there was one resounding phrase from the think tank presidents, “We need a Joe Overton.”
There were, of course, no other “Joe Overtons” to be had. Even the very few that are lucky enough to have exceptional people as second in command would not likely be so bold as to refer to them as a Joe Overton. And why is that? It is because Joe Overton had a one-in-a-million combination brilliance and vision, passion for liberty, and above all a devotion to God that guided his every action.
I had the pleasure of working under his guiding hand for more than four years when I served on the senior staff of the Mackinac Center. During that time he was far more than a boss to me. He was my mentor who became a close personal friend. He was one of the most respectable and honorable men I have ever known in my life, and right behind my Dad and Larry Reed has had the greatest positive impact on me personally.
After leaving the Mackinac Center I had the pleasure and honor to continue working with Joe on several of his “brain children,” including the Michigan Legal Foundation, USA Votes, Inc., and Citizen Legislator. They were all his ideas and concepts he developed so well. And just like at the Mackinac Center I was flattered that he thought me capable of helping him to promote these visionary ideas.
Like many of the “Overton foot soldiers” I enjoyed the spin-off benefit of having people mistakenly think I was brilliant because I was working on an Overton project. Everything he touched seemed to be magic.
When I learned of Joe's sudden death, I was stunned like I have never been before in my life. First of all, he was such a "Bigger than Life" character I've always seen him as invincible. He was always one of those lean, eat right, don't smoke, don't drink, exercise regularly, religious people that seem to have it so all together that it never occurs to you that they could die before their time. And it never occurred to me that there would ever be a time when he would not be around.
I feel like I have lost several key people all at one time: my friend, my confidant, my mentor, and my business partner. He did so many positive things in such a short period of time, I can only lament as to what yet he would have accomplished in the next 30 years or so. I will never forget him and will forever strive to be more like him.
Joe’s pursuit of excellence was unmatched, both in his personal life and his business life. Joe Overton could be the poster child for the expression, “What would Jesus do?” If you asked, “What would Joe Overton do?” you’d get the same answer.
James E. Kostrava, CAE
Joe was a mighty warrior in the battle to defend traditional values in this country, starting in his own community. I am especially grateful for his work as a mentor to our Blackstone interns, and I am thankful that he was willing to be used by the Lord in this important work.
Alan E. Sears
President, CEO, and General Counsel
Alliance Defense Fund
Joe was indeed one of the champions of freedom. However, the things I remember most about Joe is running with him along the bike path in Midland as he soaked in the beauty of life about him, and his attempting to teach me to play Hey There Little Red Riding Hood on the electric guitar. These are the things I most remember because they show his wonderful zest for life and that fact that he was such a genuinely good person that it made you feel good just to be around him. I, for one, will be asking him to put in a good word to God for me when I am in a hard situation here on earth. And if I know Joe, he'll be able to get me some help.
Board of Scholars Member, Mackinac Center for Public Policy
Munson Professor of Political Economy and Professor
What a great guy. To me, he was the glue at Mackinac, organizing to make sure everything worked.
I have been thinking about how to keep Joe's legacy alive and would like to propose something. When Joe explained "raising the window of political possibility" to us at your leadership conference, I clearly recognized the differentiated role of free-market think tanks versus politicians. Frankly, this is my most memorable vision of Joe as we had an extended conversation about the "window" principle.
I would like to call this "window" the "Overton window" from this point forward.
Note - Joe Overton used to explain the difference between what those in a think tank and what those engaged in politics do in these terms: However principled a politician may be, he or she can only accomplish those things which are within a narrow window of what is politically possible at the present time. Our role as a think tank is to move that "window" further toward the goal of advancing civil society.
I always admired him as a man of enormous integrity, courage, and intellect. He leaves the world a better place for his presence.
Kris Alan Mauren, Executive Director
Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty
I rise in sadness to remember a friend. Many of you may have had the opportunity to have met Joe Overton. Joe was a good friend from Midland. He was also the vice president of the Mackinac Center in Midland. Anyone who knew Joe knew he was a person of conviction, a man of ideas, and a man of deep and abiding faith. I had the great pleasure to be with Joe in a Bible study for a number of years. Joe was a man who would always challenge you. Whether you agreed or disagreed, he would challenge your ideas, challenge why you thought that, and why you felt that way. He was someone who believed passionately in the power of ideas. He believed in making a difference by putting out his ideas in terms of free market. His ideas could really make a difference not just here, but throughout the world. Joe lived a life that reflected that. He leaves behind a family, his wife of just three months, Helen, friends throughout the community, and people throughout our state and nation who know that Joe made a difference. He was an engineer, and he was an attorney. Most of all, he was a man of faith. He was truly a Christian gentleman, and he really made a difference for our state and our nation. He will be missed and remembered.
Michigan State Senator Tony Stamas, R-Midland
On the Floor of the Michigan State Senate
July 1, 2003
Joe Overton has had a dramatic impact on the people of the state of Michigan. He was not out front like those of us who are active in the political arena, but he was a very good administrator. He was also a very intense man, who as the previous speaker stated, he would always challenge your thinking, and that is one of the things he would do. You would sit down and talk with him, and he would ask why. Then he would try to go for different issues asking have you thought about it going this way or that way. We've truly lost a tremendous statesman with Joe Overton, and I regret his untimely passing.
Michigan State Senator Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt
On the Floor of the Michigan State Senate
July 1, 2003
I have long admired Joe Overton for his integrity, his warmth, and his huge contributions to Mackinac and the state policy movement. I am terribly sad to learn of his death.
State of Colorado
Joe was not just an inspirational activist and political philosopher -- he was also a wonderful, charming person. He was a joy to just spend time with, whether over coffee or at a more formal setting. There was a spark in Joe that energized everyone around him.
Hon. Jurgen O. Skoppek
Michigan Worker's Compensation Appellate Commission
Our long-time Libertarian Party of Michigan members remember his enthusiasm and commitment as he ably served as State Chairman of the LPM from 1987 to 1988 and an Executive Director of the Party before that. Even at that young age, he was a dynamic and capable leader. I met Joe only once....at a school choice debate in Grand Rapids in 2000. Even in the midst of heated debate, he treated everyone with calm respect and showed his passion for freedom and making Michigan a better place to live. He remained a friend of the Libertarian Party, always eager to help us by finding speakers for our events or sending useful information to our candidates. He made many friends for the Mackinac Center among our membership, and we share with you in mourning this great ambassador. All of our members, who share Joe's love of liberty, are truly saddened by the tragic loss of one of freedom's champions.
Bill Gelineau, State Chairman
Libertarian Party of Michigan
In the early 1980s, the Libertarian Party was making progress. Presidential candidate Ed Clark won nearly a million votes in the 1980 election. In 1982, the LP of Michigan ran Dick Jacob for governor. I was party chairman for a couple of years then, and we were successful enough to maintain a small office staff, including some volunteers. Joe, perhaps 21 at that point, was one of these volunteers. He was the most knowledgeable and articulate homegrown spokesman for liberty and practical political action I had ever seen, then or since.
We sort of lost touch over the years, and the LP and the Mackinac Center have taken different tacks, but I did see Joe during several conventions. In my milieu, Joe was the Christian among the radical Randians, but most everyone was respectful of the philosophical differences, and I had nothing but admiration for his courage and integrity. The other thing that makes me so sad about hearing of his loss, is he was the nicest and best-natured guy, with a great sense of humor. He was simply wonderful and positive to be around.
I have a story that's representative of his character. In those days I
was riding a motorcycle, and had joined forces with ABATE to protest helmet laws. Joe was working in our Lansing office on the day of a protest against the helmet law, which ended with a Capitol steps rally. As the LP candidate for Secretary of State, running against an incumbent viewed by the bikers as an "Arrogant-Save-You-From-Yourself" type, I addressed the rally. It was pretty exciting to have all these biker dudes and chicks hollering my name over and over again. I got a lilttle carried away, and used some profanity.
Afterwards, when everyone had calmed down, Joe said quietly, "Brian,
you didn't need to use the swear words." And, of course, he was right.
Joe was the sort who made you a better person by just knowing him. Joe Overton's absence from the battlefield of liberty leaves a gaping hole that cannot be filled. All we can do is rally stronger to the cause, working to make real the vision of a free society promoted by brave souls like Joe (and the late Dick Jacobs). Joe, this one's for you - (swear words) - I miss
Joe set an example of principle and professionalism that is irreplaceable and his unselfish commitment to helping the think tank movement was indispensible. I'll always remember his generosity (and patience) when I would call him for advice. Our movement has lost a very gentle giant.
Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications
Colorado Gov. Bill Owens
Joe was such a fine and honorable man.
Republican National Committeewoman for Michigan
His is a loss not only to Michigan and MCPP, but indeed to the entire freedom movement.
Kirk Johnson, Research Fellow
Center for Data Analysis
The Heritage Foundation
Joe accomplished an incredible amount in his brief life, and he did it with integrity, joy and honesty. His kindness was noticeable to everyone, and I admired his strong convictions and his willingness to put them on the line. He had that winning combination of standing firm, but always with respect and
graciousness toward those who didn't agree. And that won everyone's
Anne M. DeBoer
Dow Corning Foundation
In May 2000, I experienced first-hand his special character and “too intense” personality at the Mackinac Leadership Conference. His passion, humor, integrity, and love of life made me envious.
John Edward Hilboldt
Director, Lectures and Seminars
The Heritage Foundation
Joe was an incredible leader within the public policy community and a truly great guy.
Joshua J. Slavitt
Director Government Affairs, Policy & Outreach
Altria Corporate Services, Inc.
The Mackinac Center and the nation have suffered a great loss. Joe was an inspiration for every freedom-loving American, and he will be missed.
Vice President for Institutional Advancement
Joe’s preparation for the responsibilities of today while keeping his vision of tomorrow was an inspiration for every warrior in the cultural war.
La Rae G. Munk
Director of Legal Services
Association of American Educators
Joe was a true gentleman and a tireless champion of human liberty.
Co-author with Joe Overton of the landmark 1996 study,Advancing Civil Society: A State Budget to Strengthen Michigan Culture.
I only met Joe Overton briefly at a Leadership Conference you hosted. But during that weekend, I got a sense of his passion for liberty and his commitment to his colleagues and the Mackinac Center. I was struck by his professionalism, the kindness he showed all of his guests, and the deep sense of respect and fondness that others at the Mackinac Center had for him.
Institute for Humane Studies
He was just a young kid, essentially, and it's heartbreaking. He was a principled libertarian, anarcho-sympathetic, pro-Austrian, immensely talented, adventurous, strikingly handsome, and all those other good things. And he died doing something (flying) that most folks just dream about. My heart goes out to you, and everyone at MC. The freedom movement lost a good man.
Karen A. De Coster
Adjunct Scholar, Mackinac Center for Public Policy
He will never be forgotten... folks have mentioned they will never forget the Mackinac Joe who wasn't afraid of anything, excited to fight for freedom, determined to see the vision of school choice realized, convinced (and rightly so) that freedom would win in the end... and the Joe who many of us knew... who was always the first one starting a game of catch with the kids at picnics, willing to try anything once (he even talked me into trying sushi - a tough job), loved the beautiful outdoors in Michigan... even making smores - as long as the chocolate perfectly aligned with the graham cracker, and had a zest for life.
The Institute for Justice
When I met Joe I appreciated soon his politeness and kindness. When Fabrizio and I came to Midland I remember that he drove us for miles away to see the countryside and always stayed with us to be sure that we didn't get bored. He told us about his travelling to South and Central America and sometimes his stories come back to us, still. We believe that this is a tremendous loss for all of us, but we believe also that he will keep on being with us for the sake of the freedom movement.
Luigi, Lina, Fabrizio Manzione
Joe was a true "golden soul" whose life work directly served to perfect humanity. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to know him and the thought that he is now gone brings me to tears.
Smith, Bridges & Associates
Though I knew him only slightly, it was enough to know that he was truly an exceptional man, doing exceptional work. His presence will be profoundly missed.
Microsoft Government Affairs
He touched my life in many ways. Now I have a responsibility, out of profound respect, to do even more in his memory to advance freedom. For me, Joe will never be gone! His legacy is just too strong to be gone. No, Joe will live on for many years to come, and that's how it will be for me, and I'm sure for many.
We share in your loss of an associate, friend, and great American. God bless you and your associates as you continue the great work of the Mackinac Center. Our appreciation and fond memories of Joe live on, along with his accomplishments.
James Barrett, President
Michigan Chamber of Commerce
Most people knew Joe as a brilliant thinker, freedom fighter and leader at the Mackinac Center. I knew him best as a roommate and close friend. He is, without question, the most loyal, trustworthy and honest friend that I've ever had. Joe had great passion and purpose about life. He was serious, squeezing more out of life in one month than most do in a lifetime. But he also had a great sense of humor, and I can recall several crazy and comical times that we had. I'm honored that he was my friend. I'm honored that he was a groomsman in my wedding. I'm honored that he was my Christian brother. I loved that man. He was special.
Sports Editor, Midland Daily News
I had the great pleasure of working with Joe at the Mackinac Center. I am certainly a better person for knowing Joe. Joe was a dynamic leader and brilliant visionary. He challenged people to have high expectations and to achieve more than what is expected. He was guided by a moral compass to which I aspire.
Field, Sarvas King & Coleman
He was a gentle, kind person who exuded a great caring sense and an abundance of immense intellectual curiosity. His ideals will be everlasting to your endeavors and the betterment of all who knew and loved him.
Joe Overton was an American hero. He stood for things that are right, honest, and supportive of the preservation of American ideals.
Ormand and Teri Hook
Joe was a friend of mine at college. Even though I have not had contact with Joe for over 22 years, I remember Joe as a very nice guy with a great laugh.
Michigan Tech class of 1981
Joe had tremendous strength of character and was a huge asset to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. He was intelligent, quiet, confident and kind. Joe's untimely death was a blow to all of us.
Junia and Ted Doan
It was my pleasure to work with Joe years ago when he served as chair of the Libertarian Party of Michigan. I remember him as a very smart young man of high integrity who had an easy, gracious manner. Since those days, he surpassed all those good first impressions. And he was always willing to lend a hand when someone in the LPM asked for his help. His work at the Mackinac Center greatly benefited our shared cause. His loss is a tragic blow to all of us.
Libertarian Party of Michigan
My family and I have known Joe since 1989. He has been a good friend to us
all. Together we have shared the passion of walking with Christ, friendship
and the pursuit of educational freedom in our state and country. Joe graciously shared the podium with me on a few occasions over the past 10 years to push for and preserve freedoms in educational choice, he for charter schools and I for homeschooling. On those occasions I found that Joe was always well prepared, very professional, and possessed a wealth of information and insight for his listeners, which included me.
Joe was able to encourage my entire family. He had such great capacity.
Two of my daughters worked as summer interns at the Mackinac Center for
Public Policy. He made an outstanding impact in each of their lives. He
made a pivotal contribution to one while she was making her choice on
college education alternatives. For the other, he helped her grow
significantly as a leader. For us all he made the day brighter by his
interest, ready smile and personal encouragement.
I always looked forward to the time I could spend with Joe because of his
special insights and good friendship. He and I often hoped to be more
closely linked in our work. But that will have to wait for a bit. We miss
him greatly and there is an empty spot in our hearts. However, those of us
that follow in his footsteps have found him faithful to his calling and the
legacy he leaves carries on through us.
Paul and Kathy De Pree
Midland Area Homeschool Leader
Patrick Henry College Trustee
There is an African proverb that says "When a wise man dies, it's as if a
library of great books has been lost." This proverb reflects the way I
felt on hearing the shocking news of the premature passing of Joe Overton.
An incredible collection of truly great books is now gone. Joe's
library had many volumes, including important volumes on leadership, greatness,
commitment, dedication, equanimity, diplomacy, friendship, vision, and
excellence, and many of us learned a lot from those volumes over the years.
The books might be gone, but the spirit that represents Joe's library is not
gone, and it will live forever in the hearts and minds of the many family
members, friends and colleagues who were touched deeply and permanently by Joe
Overton during his lifetime.
Mark J. Perry
Chairman, Department of Economics
University of Michigan-Flint
I have a lot of memories that are just coming to my mind in this moment. He was an extraordinary person and the Lord wants him THERE.
(Former: Luz Angela Mejia-Guzman, Cali-Colombia.)
There's a famous proverb that I often cite in regard to the long and difficult road we in the freedom movement must travel. It says, "A society grows great when men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in." The countless trees Joe Overton planted were the kind whose shade he was very unlikely to enjoy himself -- and I'm sure Joe realized that better than anyone. There is no doubt in my mind, however, that people from all walks of life and in all parts of the world will long enjoy the shade and comfort of the countless trees Joe Overton planted during his time with us. His life and his life's ambitions will forever be a blessing -- and inspiration -- to all of us who love and cherish liberty.
Steven T. Khalil
Adjunct Scholar, Mackinac Center for Public Policy
Hopefully we can honor his memory by continuing the work he has done and the standards he set for the Mackinac Center.
Member of Board Of Advisors of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy
I was always incredibly impressed with Joe--he was a brilliant man and a gifted warrior for freedom.
Dr. Brad Birzer
Professor of History
Mackinac Center Board of Scholars
I can say with honesty that my few months in working with him made me a better person, more compassionate, more professional, and more convicted to my ideas.
Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift America Inc.
Former summer intern, Mackinac Center for Public Policy
Although I only met Joe for the first time a month ago, it was one of those friendly and intellectually stimulating experiences you will never forget. I walked away with the feeling that I had known Joe for years and with the feeling that I left with more than I came in with. It was really a pleasure and a relationship I was planning on enjoying for a long time.
Mike Straty and Family
I only met him once, but through his work at the Mackinac Center I feel I knew him very well. I was most impressed by how his life seemed to revolve around the twin ideas of freedom and Christian faith. Fascinatingly, these ideas converged in him, energized him and became a wellspring of purpose and creativity.
Things like this sure drive home that there are no gaurentees and that we should take time to smell the roses every day.
Ed and Shirley Barr
What a remarkable man! The world has lost someone special and we are all the poorer for it.
Bill and Faye Wenger
Our conversations and his visits to us here were of the greatest utility and pleasure. I shall miss his charm and professionalism.
Lexi.net Intelligent Hosting
Joe meant more to me than anything. I often recounted how, aside from our great friendship and fun together, he impacted my life...in bringing me into the movement at the Center, introducing me to Ayn Rand, introducing me to Nathaniel Branden (which helped my own development), introducing me to FEE, introducing me to the idea of true romantic love, and introducing me to Christianity.
Former Director of Communications, Mackinac Center for Public Policy
In his quiet, friendly, yet efficient manner, Joe seemed to be able to channel the energy that emanated from your staff. Joe was one of a very small group of THE Movement people who provided leadership for the rest of us to follow. Let us all resolve to stand a little straighter, to engage the enemies of liberty a little smarter, and to reach a little harder for the goals that we so ardently shared with Joe. That will be a fitting memorial for Joe.
Ruth and Pete Peters
Here are the memories that quickly come to mind as I think about Joe:
a quick laugh and smile
real knowledge of the facts
always looked professional
committed to the belief that mankind should be free
I'm sure there are other wonderful traits, but those are the ones that come to mind. I'm also reminded of the movie "Patton" when Gen. Patton buried his aide who died of combat wounds in North Africa and said of him in a letter, "He had no vices." That's Joe, and we will all miss him.
Daniel S. Peters
Ruth And Lovett Peters Foundation
I only met Joe twice, but I could tell within five minutes of our first meeting that he was very smart, classy man. I was looking forward to getting to know him better.
VP - Quicken Loans
I only met him once but his death has hit a special place in my heart.
The depth of character which Joe had reflects also the depth of talent and dedication within the Center.
John E. Riecker
Former Member of the Board, Mackinac Center for Public Policy
Even though I did not spend a great deal of time with him, the discussions we had were wonderful; he was an amazingly intelligent man who knew a great deal, and also knew he had a great deal left to learn. Out of all the people I've met, Joe was one of the closest to the kind of person I wish to become, and I know that we'll get to have another chat someday.
Former intern, Mackinac Center for Public Policy
I met Joseph Overton a few months ago. He took me aside to prepare us for a presentation to the group at the April educational leadership seminar. We dicussed Hayek for 10 minutes or so. He seemed like a bright and lively defender of liberty, which are usually the best. Please send my condolences to his friends and family.
Lambert, Edwards & Associates
Grand Rapids, Michigan
I met Joe for the first and only time on his wedding day. I have known Helen over the course of the last 8 years in the Boston area. Beyond the love and affection that emanated from Helen that day to her new husband, I was struck by tributes given to him by guests in attendance who knew him far better than I. Larry's toast on the day of his wedding certainly painted a vivid picture of a man of strong convictions whose passion for adventure, justice, and grace seemed to imbue him with a zest for life and a rock-solid character .
I was privileged to both love Joe and call him my friend. He comforted me through the roughest personal hardship I endured when my dad was sick and continued to be a rock for me. It's no wonder that I long to talk with him today.
Director of Public Affairs
Grossmont Union High School District
San Diego, CA
I worked side-by-side with Joe Overton at the Mackinac Center for a number of years. My job was to write and/or edit many of the words that issued forth from the organization, words that eloquently spoke on behalf of the free society Joe vividly envisioned and firmly believed we would one day achieve. But now I have no words to fill the void of his passing, and no eloquence to convey the sense of his loss. I reach instead for these lines from a Tennyson poem, a poem lamenting the untimely loss of one of the great poet's friends:
I leave thy praises unexpressed
In verse that brings myself relief
And by the measure of my grief
I leave thy greatness to be guessed.
God rest you, Joe.
Bolger and Battle
Joe changed my life forever and I will never forget him.
Mark Lerner, Member of the Board
Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School for Public Policy
I feel blessed and fortunate to have been able to spend time with Joe at his wedding in Cambridge those few short months before the accident. Sometimes when I need encouragement, I visit the Center website and pull up the archives on the events surrounding his passing. I particularly enjoy reading the eulogies and messages posted by those at the Center as well as those from his professional contacts around the world. After reading these, I realize all over again that one person can make a big difference in the lives of our community and other people. There may be hope for this world after all.
J. Robert Dean, Esq.
In his professional life, Joe Overton was incredibly gifted as a lawyer, an engineer, a manager, and a champion of sound policy that has made Michigan a freer and more prosperous state. In his personal life, he was the finest Christian gentleman, a model citizen and coworker whom his associates admired and emulated, a friend and adviser without peer. He was devoted to his colleagues, his church, his community, his country, and his wife of three months and a day, Helen. He leaves behind an indelible imprint on our organization and our state.
"Personally, you were the brother that I never had and I promise to honor you by doing my best to follow your superlative example for the rest of my life. Thank you, Joe. We will never let you down."
Lawrence Reed, President
Mackinac Center for Public Policy
See also Tributes from Joe Overton's Mackinac Center Colleagues.