Tributes from Joe Overton's Mackinac Center Colleagues

From Joe Overton’s colleagues and former colleagues at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy:

Mr. Overton contributed greatly to my internship experience at the Mackinac Center last year. I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to exchange my ideas with him.

Shabnam Mirsaeedi
Former summer intern, Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Although I only knew Joe for four years, he had a great impact on me.

Sean Lewis
Former summer intern, Mackinac Center for Public Policy
Law Clerk - CGSH
Paris, France

He was a truly a man of the highest quality and I know that you and everyone else at the Center will miss him greatly.

Peter Leeson
Former summer intern (four years in a row!), 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.

Eric Pynnonen
Former summer intern, Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Heaven was made for a guy like Joe. One thing is for sure, Joe's legacy will be a freer and more prosperous Michigan--we'll all see to that!

Brennan Brown
Former Colleague

Joe's preparation for the responsibilities of today while keeping his vision on tomorrow was an inspiration for every warrior in the cultural war.

La Rae G. Munk
Director of Legal Services
Association of American Educators
Former Colleague

Dale Munk
Rights Alliance for Michigan

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

He was a fine man and a great asset to the Mackinac Center.

Jon Cosovich
Member of Board Of Advisors of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

We need to continue the example of good works that Joe modeled for us. Clearly Joe Overton was a sermon of integrity, a virtue which unfortunately is in short supply in this materialistic world.

Chuck Stoddard
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
Hillsdale College Mackinac Center Board of Scholars

Hopefully we can honor his memory by continuing the work he has done and the standards he set for the Mackinac Center.

Chris Christ
Member of Board Of Advisors of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

He never failed to exude warmth from his deepest being. Though he will be sorely missed, he will continue to inspire us from above. With sincerest condolences,

Bob Wittmann
Michigan Partnership for New Education
Former Colleague

Joe was one of the finest persons I've ever known and truest friends. He influenced me beyond words in so many aspects of life....philosophy, religion, psychology, love, relationships, general zest for life....and friendship.

Andrew Little
Former Director of Communications, Mackinac Center for Public Policy

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
Member of the Board of Scholars, Mackinac Center for Public Policy

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.

Brandon Lynaugh
Director of Operations
The Buckeye Institute of Ohio
Former summer intern, Mackinac Center for Public Policy

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.

Matt Wilczek
Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift America Inc.
Former summer intern, Mackinac Center for Public Policy

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.

Mary Gifford
Field, Sarvas King & Coleman
Former Colleague

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
Former Colleague

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.

Catherine Martin
Director of Public Affairs
Grossmont Union High School District
San Diego, CA
Former Colleague

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.

Lori Yaklin
Senior Advisor on Family Educational Rights
Office of Innovation and Improvement
U.S. Department of Education

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.

David Bardallis
Bolger and Battle
Former Colleague

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
Funding Freedom
Former Colleague

Joe's love for liberty would be difficult to match.

Matthew J. Brouillette, President
Commonwealth Foundation
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Former Colleague

Joe was a true gentleman and a tireless champion of human liberty.

Aaron Steelman
Co-author with Joe Overton of the landmark 1996 study, Advancing Civil Society: A State Budget to Strengthen Michigan Culture.

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

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.

Gary Wolfram
Board of Scholars Member, Mackinac Center for Public Policy
Munson Professor of Political Economy and Professor
Hillsdale College

I probably have known Joe the least amount of time, yet in that short period of time he defined himself as a man of great intellect, integrity, faith, and depth. I recently informed Joe my best friend was the victim of a horrible motorcycle accident. Joe, just getting to know me, and not knowing my friend, offered his support, advice, and prayer. Joe's compassion for his fellow-man is just another legacy we can all remember him by.

Justin Marshall
Membership Development Officer

Joe Overton was inspiring and motivating. When others became bogged down in the details of a task, Joe reminded them of the big picture. Working with him wasn't just a job, it was helping to change the world, and Joe made sure you remembered that. Joe tirelessly worked to advance liberty. Joe didn't just think up ideas and let them die; he put his ideas into action. I know of at least three other organizations he started, in addition to his full schedule at the Mackinac Center. I once asked Joe what he would do if the Mackinac Center succeeded in education reform. He said he'd like to start a school and see if he could help advance the free market in education. Joe was boundless in creating a vision, motivational in joining the vision, and tireless in achieving the vision. I know Joe is thrilled to finally meet the Lord he has imitated, and that he earnestly desires for us to do the same.

David Matson, Programmer
Co-Founder with Joe Overton of and

I was Joe's assistant for the past three years and he was unquestionably the best boss I've had. He never once asked me to get him coffee, the tasks he gave me were always challenging and served a greater purpose. He was a great peacemaker, always defusing situations, and he treated everyone with respect. He was a great example to me of what a boss, and more importantly a human being, should be.

Katie Malisow
Executive Assistant

Joe Overton was the very best of us. It would be hard to find a more complete human being. He was wise, thoughtful, kind, humble, humorous, caring--and above all--a man of self-mastery. He had a passion for life that was hard to surpass. Of those characteristics, two stick out: wisdom and humor. Joe was one of the few people I knew that I could define as an "intellectual." He had an uncanny ability to wade into a thicket of prose and numerical data and cut right to the heart of the matter. His humor would never cease to surprise. When I first started here I was lamenting the fact that I had no friends in Midland and said, "the only friends I have are the ones I work with." Without skipping a beat, JPO responded, "And that's being presumptuous."

Michael LaFaive
Director of Fiscal Policy

Joe was my boss, a friend, and my mentor at the Mackinac Center. His tragic death is a genuine loss to the Mackinac Center and to the freedom movement. I am reminded at times like this of the words of a friend who had recently lost a teenage son: "Life is too precious not to take advantage of, because you never know when it will be snatched away." Joe fully lived up to this good advice.

Jack McHugh

My best recollection of Joe was his ability to challenge me to think bigger and bolder as I developed my labor agenda ideas. Many times I would think, as I was trained, as a lawyer to focus sometimes narrowly on a problem and create a solution based upon this narrow view. Joe challenged and inspired me to think more broadly and comprehensively and to arrive at an answer that addressed a range of problems in the labor area that was holding back worker freedoms. As such, I often developed comprehensive solutions to worker problems that dealt with the gamut of restrictions and obstacles that prevented the fullest exercise of worker freedom. He did this all with good humor and with the highest moral and ethical standards which always resulted in greater worker opportunities and liberty from the often coercive system that holds them back. In short, he brought out the best in me to demonstrate my God-given talents.

Bob Hunter
Director of Labor Policy

I thought often of the way my relationship with Joe has enriched my life. I loved to tease him that I was his first hire---and he always came back with a quick "it was all down hill after that" remark. He expanded my knowledge of being a manager and constantly challenged me to grow into the many hats that we all seem always to share at this our second home. In 11 long years I rejoiced in his growth too and watched with awe as his stature and the respect from others around the state and indeed our nation became ever more apparent.

I thought of the ways he made me a better executive. And then I realized that his most enduring legacy to me was that I am a better person for having worked with and loved Joe Overton. On his recent wedding day, I told him I loved him. My one regret is I didn't tell him more often. But somehow, I know he knew and blessedly, he returned that love.

Kendra Shrode
Assistant to the President

I will remember Joe for his unexpected humor. For being so intensely serious and passionate about his work and mission, he still found a way to bring in a bit of humor. Not directly, but in a subtle manner, I think he enjoyed using humor just to get that grin on your face. I remember him orchestrating a conversation, just for fun, where no one was allowed to use any form of the word "do." How hard that was. I'll never forget him finally agreeing to give me a ride on his motorcycle... he was so surprised at how well I did leaning in on the curves. I fondly remember the time he ate his lunch and sang with me while I was a new phone trainee, answering phones alone for the first time. How nervous I was to have the Senior Vice President watching me... but he quickly made me feel at ease with it. I have many fond memories, of which these are just a few.

LeAnn Hadley
Administrative Assistant

To his staff, Joe was a man who had high expectations, and a distinct sense of fairness. He led by example, and set the bar for professionalism, as well as kindness. For me personally, I am indebted to him for broadening my professional skills, and enhancing my performance as an employee and colleague. Whether it be a question about the database, or about a major policy issue, Joe was a willing teacher. Joe had the knack of ferreting out the promising skills of his employees, and encouraging his staff to develop and enhance those skills to the benefit of themselves and the Center. I can say with confidence that it is because of Joe's mentoring and leadership that I have progressed far beyond what my knowledge and skill level allowed when I started at the Center.

Joe was an inspiration in the fact that he was overtly passionate about making true freedom a reality for the people of Michigan. This passion was contagious, and affected all those around him. I think he would be proud to know that his legacy at the Center will live on through his staff, his invaluable work, and through the impact his ideas have had, and will continue to have, on countless numbers of people.

Kara Malkowski
Member Services Assistant

Joe was a man who stopped whatever he was doing and gave his full attention to whomever came into his office. He was a man who glanced my way and smiled every time he went in and out of his office. I always enjoyed when Joe phoned into the office from the road because he was joyful, pleasant, courteous and kind. Joe took the time to seek me out to get to know me and ask how things were going in my life. I liked seeing his smile and the sparkle in his eyes when he talked about "his Helen" and the joy of marriage to her. I wish God had given me the opportunity to get to know him better.

Elizabeth Stankiewicz
Administrative Assistant

Joe was the sort of man you would want to be your neighbor, the man you would trust with your estate, the man you would want to coach your kids or teach them at Sunday school. You could trust his word without as much as a handshake. You could probably trust Joe to safeguard the world's most powerful and dangerous things. You could trust him with the things you hold most dear and trust him with the things you most fear because Joe was principled and he was disciplined. Joe was a rare man. We are fortunate that he lived in our world.

John Coonradt
Vice President for Advancement

Joe Overton was a remarkably talented man, who carried himself with tremendous dignity and professionalism. He was a steadying hand who oversaw the Mackinac Center with great skill, leading it to a position of considerable influence in a demanding field. At the same time he brought a bold vision and creativity into everything he did. He did not lack humility. Joe and I did not always agree on every detail of policy or strategy, but when we disagreed he could be counted on to both argue and listen respectfully.

Oh, and he could be funny too. One of my fondest memories was the time he performed an impromptu free-market rap. Had me laughing the whole rest of the day.

Joe believed in freedom, and spent the bulk of his days fighting for it. Many will feel anguish over how his life ended, but I doubt that anyone, least of all Joe himself, has any regrets over how his life was lived.

Paul Kersey
Labor Policy Research Associate

It has been one week since Joe left us. The reality of his absence comes in waves as I see his name on memos, emails, and letters, the communications lifelines of the Freedom Movement. It still seems unbelievable that a man who seemed almost indestructible could leave us so quickly and so tragically…..yet I am reminded that God does not make mistakes and so I trust that his grace is truly sufficient. I am amazed at how many times I find myself listening for Joe’s footsteps to come down the hall or his hearty laugh. When Joe was in the office, you knew it. He had an energy that was both infectious and rare. If Joe was around, we all moved a little faster, thought a little deeper and tried a little harder. I have described him to family and friends in one word……dynamic. In my mind there is no other way to describe him that is more fitting. His high standards were a model for us all. I will miss him. However, I am comforted by the fact that one day, when I enter my eternal home, I will once again hear his energetic footsteps come down the hall and I know he will be laughing.

Deborah Scott-Schatzer
Advancement Officer

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