Richard Durant, a captain in the U.S. Army in World War II; an investment advisor; a leader in local, state, and national Republican Party activities for more than twenty years; a lawyer late in life; an avid reader; a father of four; grandfather of seven; and great-grandfather of two; died on Thursday January 17th. He was 89, six weeks short of his 90th birthday.
To enlist in the Army, Durant memorized the eye chart while standing in line so he could read it with his glasses off when his turn came. He graduated from Officers Candidate School in North Carolina and served in Mexico, the Philippines, and Japan, where he was one of the first U.S. Army officers to land in 1945. He was sent alone from Yokohama to secure and reopen the port city of Nagoya. Years later he invited the son of the then-mayor of Nagoya to visit Grosse Pointe, and they attended a Tigers game at Briggs Stadium.
He married Rosemary Heenan, a resident of Grosse Pointe, in 1945. Their marriage lasted 62 years. Their first home was the garage apartment on the Webber estate. In 1949 they moved to their Lincoln Road home, where Mrs. Durant still resides. He and Mrs. Durant joined the Grosse Pointe Congregational Church where Mr. Durant taught Sunday School using the King James version of the Bible as his main text. Every June he would take those who did well on their final exam to Briggs Stadium for a ballgame. Everyone passed. “Mr. Durant was a wonderful teacher. He introduced us to stories and lessons throughout the Old and New Testament that I still treasure today,” said Harry Kurtz, a student of Durant’s almost 50 years ago.
Durant started a small investment company, authored a booklet entitled, “What Is The Dow Theory?”, and taught investment analysis and economics at Walsh Institute of Technology. Over time, and with others, he invested in and helped to manage seven small Michigan state banks.
In 1950 and 1952 Durant ran spirited but unsuccessful races for a seat in the U.S. Congress to represent the 14th Congressional District, a traditional Democrat seat. The 14th at that time included all of the Pointes and large sections ofthe eastside of Detroit stretching to Hamtramck. Durant popularized the case against inflation and for lower taxes with his famous “over the fence” talks using a bag of groceries to demonstrate the impact of the excessive spending, higher taxes, and inflation of the Truman years. He sought to lower taxes and increase freedom, at home and abroad.
Throughout the fifties and sixties, Durant remained active in politics, particularly working to broaden the base of the Republican Party and encouraging young people to understand and get involved in politics and the ideas underlying the workings of a free society. He was for many years the chairman of the 14th District and was a delegate to two national conventions. In 1964 he was one of the “rebellious 8” of Michigan’s 48 national delegates at the Cow Palace in San Francisco who voted to nominate Barry Goldwater. In 1968 he supported Ronald Reagan’s first try for the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention in Miami. “Richard Durant was the first real champion of the conservative movement in Michigan. Many entered and stayed in politics because of his work,” said his brother-in-law Palmer Heenan, mayor of Grosse Pointe Park and a co-delegate to the 1968 Republican convention.
In 1970, at the age of 52, Mr. Durant surprised his friends by enrolling in law school at the University of Detroit. Jon Gandelot, a young friend working for U.S. Senator Robert Griffin, said, “The story was that if Dick Durant was formidable before law school, think of what he can do with a law degree!” But Durant chose to use his law degree primarily to represent people who had little voice.
For many years his caseload included indigent criminal assignments from judges on the Recorder’s Court and Wayne Circuit Court. Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Michael Talbot was a classmate and partner with Durant in a firm they formed right after graduation. When asked about Durant as a lawyer, Talbot said, “Dick was at the top of our class. He was a fighter. He always sought to do justice. He represented his clients well.” Durant practiced law until he was 80. For years he and his son Clark had the firm Durant and Durant, P.C. “Dad taught me many things during our practice of law together. But the two most important were to do what is right and to be prepared.”
Mr. Durant was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, on March 5, 1918, the only child of William Clark and Heloise Durant. He attended the Berkshire School in western Massachusetts for high school but left in 1933 in his sophomore year to find work because of the Depression. He was first hired as a water boy for a New York construction crew and then as an office boy for the president of National City Bank, now Citibank.
He attended night classes at Columbia but never graduated. However, in May of 1936 he received the Charles F. Minor First Prize for general academic excellence from the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Banking. In July of that year, when Durant was only 18 years old, The New York Times published a letter from Durant taking The Times to task for crediting Roosevelt and the Federal Reserve for taking anti-inflationary actions (raising reserve requirements) when, young Durant pointed out, other Roosevelt policies were devaluing the dollar and causing inflation.
Mr. Durant considered reading a wide range of books to be the foundation of a good education. Nearly 10,000 books were located in every part of his house: histories, biographies, essays, poetry, novels, drama, children’s stories, science fiction, and economic and political works—he prized them all. He regularly attended the Shaw and Stratford theatre festivals with his family where he saw all of Shakespeare’s plays (more than once) and almost all of Shaw’s, his two favorite playwrights. He enjoyed critiquing the performances during the subsequent dinner conversations, and always found another volume or two for his library in a secondhand bookshop. He enjoyed sharing his love of books with the men of the Witenagemote where he had been a member since 1954.
Mr. Durant is survived by his wife, Rosemary; his four children: Richard Jr., Peter (Suzanne), Clark (Susan), and Eugénie; his seven grandchildren: Hope, Maggie, T. Clark, Kate, John, Page, and Anne; and his two great-grandchildren, Susan and Caroline Redmond.
A memorial service will be held at 10:30 am, on Saturday, January 26th, at the Grosse Pointe Congregational Church, 240 Chalfonte. Memorial contributions can be sent to: The Foundation for Economic Education, 30 S. Broadway, Irvington-on-Hudson, New York 10533; the Cornerstone Schools, 6861 E. Nevada, Detroit, Michigan 48234; and the Boy Scouts of America, Detroit Area Council, 1776 W. Warren Ave., Detroit, Michigan 48208.
Clark Durant, son of the late Richard Durant, founded the Cornerstone Schools in the Detroit metropolitan area.