Hospitalized July 1, the man always quick with a grin and a quiet helping hand lost the final battle of his life. Herman Cain, 2012 Republican presidential candidate, Tea Party activist, and successful businessman, has died at 74 from complications of COVID-19.
Staffers reeled from the news and Dan Calabrese, Mr. Cain’s longtime friend and editor, offered the world his condolences:
“I’m sorry I had to bring you bad news this morning. But the good news is that we had a man so good, so solid, so full of love and faith . . . that his death hits us this hard. Thank God for a man like that.”
No stranger to adversity, Cain was born into poverty on December 13, 1945, in Memphis, TN. His father worked three jobs to become a homeowner and to ensure his children had an education. Recounting his childhood, Cain said, “we were poor but happy.” He also spoke highly of the values his mother, a domestic worker, would impart: “Success was not a function of what you start out with materially, but what you start out with spiritually.”
Herman Cain exceeded his parents’ dreams. He graduated from Morehouse College and then earned a Master of Science degree from the prestigious Purdue University while working full time for the Department of the Navy.
He climbed the corporate ladder to rise to positions of prominence at Pillsbury, Burger King, and finally as CEO of Godfather’s Pizza. His business acumen would eventually propel him to going toe-to-toe with President Bill Clinton – and only one man flinched. During a town hall in Kansas City, MO, to promote the massive health care reform drafted by Hillary, Cain asked Clinton what to say to the workers who would soon be out of a job because of the costly “employer mandate” that small businesses could not manage. In classic Bill Clinton style, the president drawled a grinning response as he attempted to kick the can down the road. Cain persisted and silenced the man: “Quite honestly, your calculation is inaccurate. In the competitive marketplace, it simply doesn’t work that way.”
Cain will be forever credited with killing the Clinton couple’s attempts at costly health care reform. That victory was the catalyst for entering the political arena.
Jack Kemp, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary, flew to Nebraska after watching Cain’s “auspicious debut on the national political stage” with the affable Clinton. From there, he became an advisor to the Dole/Kemp 1996 campaign and eventually ran for president twice: 2000 and 2012. Although he lost graciously, he continued to believe he was the better messenger for America heading into the 21st Century.
But he served happily for those who did win the hardest and most powerful job in the world: President of the United States. Cain, who co-chaired Black Voices for Trump, became the thorn in the side of white liberal elites in the Democratic Party and never-Trumpers. And he did so with honor. He once said in passing, “There are generally three kinds of people in the world. People who make things happen, people who watch things happen, and people who say, what in the heck happened.”
What Happened, Indeed
In 2006 Cain was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer – he met the disease head-on and was cancer-free until his death. There was essentially nothing Cain could not put his thoughtful, forceful focus on and succeed. But COVID-19 was a struggle that, in the end, he could not overcome, and those who had the pleasure of calling him husband, father, and friend are mourning the loss with sorrow but dignity in true Cain fashion.
Yes indeed, Mr. Calabrese, “thank God for a man like that.” Godspeed.
Read more from Sarah Cowgill.