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Politics

Gene Beaupre Taught Generations Of Students Politics Can Be An Honorable Profession

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Howard Wilkinson, Gene Beaupre and Eric Rademacher in the WVXU studios in 2012.

When a person as brilliant, as knowledgeable in his field, and as gifted at teaching as Eugene L. Beaupre passes away, you might worry that his knowledge will pass away with him.

After 45 years of teaching politics to thousands of students at Xavier University, and helping hundreds of journalists to clarity in trying to explain what was happening on the Cincinnati political scene, there is absolutely no chance of Gene Beaupre's influence going away, even though he passed away last Friday at the age of 75.

Gene's influence will go on for generations to come.

When I first came to Cincinnati in October 1982, hoping to become the Enquirer's politics writer, I made a point of looking for the most knowledgeable person in the city to act as my tour guide to Cincinnati politics. Thank God I found Gene.

A slight, athletic and constantly smiling man, he completed my education in a way that was understandable and free from the jargon that mucks up much of political discourse.

And, through my education, Gene and I became good friends.

He was a loyal Democrat, but among his students were young people of both parties and he treated them all the same.

Gene didn't seem to care what his students' political beliefs were – he only cared that they have beliefs and were passionate about them.

"He treated every single person with whom he came in contact with kindness and respect," said Sean Comer, a former Xavier student whom Gene Beaupre groomed to become his successor, both as a teacher and as Xavier's director of government relations. 

"Gene had an incredible belief in his students,'' Comer said. "He gave them all a sense of confidence that they could achieve whatever they set out to do."

Two places – the Xavier University campus and Cincinnati City Hall – were at the heart of Gene's fiery passion for politics.

A native of Defiance, Ohio, his family moved to the Washington, D.C., area when Gene was young. He followed his older brother Chris in choosing to attend Xavier as an undergraduate student.

He was a Xavier student in the late 1960s, a time when politics and activism went hand in hand on so many college campuses, Xavier included.

Gene was the student body president in his senior year, in 1968 and 1969. He became a friend and political ally of a young student from Cleveland, Tim Burke, who followed Beaupre as student body president.

"There was so much going in those years in this country and students at Xavier were caught up in the activism of the time,'' said Burke, "Gene was a leader. A quiet leader, but a real leader. The administration listened to him."

Beaupre, Burke and several other students came together in 1969 when a young Jerry Springer came to campus to organize a campaign for Ohio to lower the voting age from 21 to 19.

A few years later, Beaupre and Burke became founding members of what was known as "the Xavier mafia" – a group of young, activist Democrats who worked for Springer in his council office. Gene ended up as Springer's chief of staff when the future talk show host was mayor and held a job in the city administration.

But, by 1974, Gene was back on the Xavier campus, embarking on a teaching career that would last until his retirement in 2018.

"He really was meant to be a teacher,'' Burke said. "And he was someone who believed that politics done right was truly an honorable profession, regardless of party."

Comer was a graduate of a program Beaupre founded called Philosophy, Politics and the Public honors program, known on the Xavier campus as PPP.

PPP is a rigorous, interdisciplinary program that includes engaging in public action and serving internships in politics, government and policy advocacy.

"When I was in PPP, Gene and I would often go to The Echo, have breakfast and talk politics,'' said Comer, referring to the landmark Hyde Park diner. "We'd make our predictions about City Council elections – who was up, who was down. I admired and respected him, but he took my ideas seriously, too. That was how Gene taught."

Kelly Leon, who wrote a beautiful obituary of Gene that is on the Rohde Funeral Home website, told me that she first met Gene in 1982, when Gene was working to get his friend Jerry Springer through a Democratic primary for governor. Springer finished third of three candidates.

"But I really got to know him later, in 1996, when I was director of media relations at Xavier and Gene was vice president of government relations,'' Leon said. "Technically, Gene reported to me. Which was kind of weird, because I held him in awe as a teacher and a really first-rate mind.

"What was really touching to me was that whenever I sat and talked to Gene, he would talk about his students and how bright, how talented they were,'' Leon said. "He had such a bond with the students he taught."

And Beaupre, Leon said, loved being the go-to guy for local media when they needed someone to talk to about elections and politics in general. 

"He really loved that role; he enjoyed it,'' Leon said. "And he was so good at it. He could explain the most complex situations in a way everyone could understand."

I took advantage of Gene's expertise hundreds of time over the years.

I remember one day at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008 – an historic event where Barack Obama was nominated for the presidency – I was walking from one of the giant media tents to the nearby Pepsi Center, site of the convention sessions. Who do I run into but Gene Beaupre and his good friend Brendon Cull, who had worked for Gene's wife, Lynn Marmer, when she was group vice president for corporate affairs at Kroger.

They weren't delegates, but both were well-connected Democrats who had wrangled guest credentials for the convention. Cull, who is now executive vice president of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, and his friend Gene were wandering the convention venue and the Ohio delegation hotel like two tourists on vacation, just soaking up the political theater and the history being made in Denver that week.

"I should have known I'd see you guys here,'' I told them.

Gene just flashed that famous toothy grin.

I really wish I could run into him again. Just to get a cup of coffee and talk some politics. Godspeed, my friend.

Lynn Marmer and Gene's daughter, Emily Marie Beaupre, ask that donations be made to the Cincinnati Alzheimer’s Associations or the charity of your choice in Gene’s name. If you are so inclined, in lieu of flowers, Lynn and Emily ask for a perennial that they will plant and watch bloom every spring as a reminder of Gene’s presence in their lives.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at Bellarmine Chapel on the campus of Xavier University on Friday June 4 at 11 a.m.  A reception will immediately follow in the Conaton Board Room in Xavier’s Schmidt Hall, Office of the President.

 For those unable to attend, https://youtu.be/lEHyNKfySjU" target="_blank">Mass will be live-streamed on YouTube.