Remembering George Voinovich –
By Tom Cross –
Ohio lost a good man early Sunday morning. Reports say he died peacefully in his sleep.
George Voinovich was a popular governor, former mayor of Cleveland, and a U.S. Senator. He was also a fishermen, hailing from northeast Ohio, not too far from the banks of Euclid Creek. Under his watch the Ohio outdoors made several leaps forward. While governor, Voinovich gave a shot in the arm to Ohio’s steelhead program when he gave a thumbs up to the purchase of the Castalia Fish Hatchery. He was a tireless advocate for Lake Erie and the entire Great Lakes. During the 1990’s, Governor Voinovich gave the green light to the ODNR to expand deer and turkey hunting opportunities across Ohio and it took off. Because of that Ohio today has become the destination state for deer hunters.
Under Voinovich more preserves were added to the Department of Natural Areas and Preserves than at any time before or since. In his 2004 bid for U.S. Senate he received more votes than any other candidate in Ohio’s recorded history.
I got to know Senator Voinovich as a fisherman over 10 years ago when on a cold March morning when I was invited by my close friend Jeff Frishkorn to go fishing with him on a tributary of the Grand River.
The Senator came dressed accordingly, two winter coats and a “Fish Ohio” sweatshirt, obviously a man who has fished a few days. He drove himself in a modest car, put on a pair of worn neoprene waders, and uncased a four-piece Orvis fly rod. Not the $600 rod, but the more affordable model that said he was a man of practicality. I was already starting to like the guy. He needed some help with his waders, like we all do once we start to lose our limberness to age, but he was an otherwise unusually fit man.
The first thing I told him was that everything was “off the record.” The Senator replied that, “with us nothing was ever off the record.” I said, “Senator, I don’t do stories like that, today we’re fishing.”
The Senator seemed a bit guarded at first, his fly-casting lacked accuracy and his back cast was weak but he kept it out of the trees. His casting rhythm seemed out of balance but that was probably to be expected from a man who has spent more time in meetings of national security than tending to the idleness of fishing. It could be too that spending time with us media types made him a bit nervous but I prefer to think it was the half-a-dozen big steelhead right in front of him, a sight that makes any man nervous. I was trying to talk the Senator through and pointing out a few fish that didn’t seem the least bit interested in his presentation.
Out of pure respect when I spoke to him it was “Senator” or “Mr. Voinovich”. First names just didn’t seem appropriate, but I did like it when he called me Tom. We made small talk, mostly just to get acquainted, and eventually began more probing questions toward each other. I was curious as to what life was like as a U.S. Senator. I didn’t know too many senators. We were slowly summing each other up.
Jeff called him away briefly to fish a deep hole that was teeming with steelhead and it wasn’t long before the Senator was into a big one. Jeff netted it for him and it turned out to be the Senator’s largest steelhead ever, an honest 30-inches. The Senator seemed finally to be warming up as a big smile crossed his face, as would anybody who had just reeled in that big of a steelhead.
That seemed to melt the ice. I photographed him a few times standing in the middle of a stream fully engaged in the moment trying to catch a steelhead. I said, “Senator come here, this riffle is full of fish.” I pointed out several to the Senator and he gave them an honest effort.
Later the Senator crossed the stream to get a better shot at those fish and I moved on downstream. Showing his independence, the Senator began to move upstream by himself targeting his own fish. From a distance I watched the hypnotic rhythm in his fly-casting. His back cast was straight and level, his forward cast was well-timed, accurate, and seemed to have all the authority of a Senate gavel. But what I mostly saw was the Senator regaining some semblance of normalcy, perhaps forgetting for a moment the weighty business of the U.S. economy, national security, and pressing energy issues, and focusing on the business at hand, which was to catch a steelhead. He seemed totally relaxed, in command, and enjoying it.
A month later I received a letter from the Senator. “ Thanks for sending me the wonderful pictures from our recent steelheading trip. I’ll never forget the great fishing and the fantastic time I had getting to know you. Thanks again and hope to drop a line with you again soon”
Ohio lost a good man.