From the castle to the mansion: Former Gov. Jim Edgar shares lessons learned


Jason Howell

Former Illinois governor Jim Edgar mingles with those who attended "From EIU to the Governor's Mansion" on Tuesday in the Buzzard Hall Auditorium. Edgar spoke about his time at Eastern and climbing up the ladder of Illinois politics. Afterwards, he took questions from those in attendance.

Luis Martinez, Staff Reporter

Former governor and Eastern graduate Jim Edgar visited his alma mater Tuesday to share his experiences at Eastern with current students, but before he began, he told the audience a quick story about his dog.

“I brought my dog with me today; now if you know me, dogs are a big deal,” Edgar said. “But I brought him with me to see the little stone monument and the grave of Napoleon.”

Napoleon was the school’s unofficial mascot from 1945 to 1960. He was a golden retriever and visited everywhere on campus, from professors’ classrooms to live events.

Edgar then shifted gears into his main message — how his time spent in Charleston and around Eastern shaped his path.

He called his experiences “lessons under the shadow of the Castle.”

“Now I grew up in Charleston, and as a little kid, I was fascinated by that building,” he said.

Edgar also said a lot of what he became, both the good and the bad, had come from living around the campus and living next to Old Main.

He said his first experience with an election was in second grade when his classmates wanted to elect him as a student representative.

Edgar said a male and female student usually occupied the position, and the other students wanted him to take the male position because the female student was his girlfriend.

“This created an opportunity, and in life you need opportunities.” Edgar said. “My first election was riding on the coattails of a woman, and in fact, for me that was the key to my success throughout.”

He said during his initial run for governor back in 1990, Republicans were not very appealing to women voters; however, Edgar managed to get their support.

“Now I wasn’t so lucky in the next lesson,” Edgar said. “I was running for vice-president of the student council in EIU lab school, and I was pretty sure I was going to win.”

At one point during the election process, all of the candidates had to deliver a speech to the student body.

“I’ve never liked to prepare speeches, especially back then,” Edgar said. “I had the women vote locked up, so I wasn’t going to write a speech.”

Edgar said he recalled a moment when one of the candidates, someone who he believed was not going to win, swung the whole election by promising sock hops for the school.

“I get up and I have no speech prepared,” Edgar said. “I just ramble and I lose the election.”

He said at that point, he realized he needed to be prepared for anything, even if it ended up backfiring.

“You can’t always count on getting lucky,” Edgar said.

Another lesson he learned while at Eastern was to get involved and meet people who may end up being helpful along the way.

“To be successful, you got to have a lot of people helping you,” he said. “You need to have a lot of folks that are willing to step up and help you along. There’s somebody who helps us in our career.”

Edgar said one person in particular helped him while he was a student.

“I was elected from the Young Republicans to be the Student Senate representative,” Edgar said. “And all of a sudden there was another vacancy for treasurer and then all of a sudden, I was the student body treasurer.”

Edgar said this moment became the platform that allowed him to run for student body president the following year.

“You guys might be thinking ‘Well big deal,’ but being the student body president in the ‘60s was a big deal,” Edgar said. “If I didn’t become student body president, I don’t think I would have be able to become governor.”

One audience member asked Edgar why graduate students should consider staying in state.

The governor replied that graduate students were needed to rebuild the state, as the state is only as good as its people.

Edgar offered one final piece of advice to the students.

“You never want to forget where you come from and remember that whatever you do in life, stick with it and when opportunity knocks, prepare to take advantage.”

Luis Martinez can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]