During the late 1950’s, Terry J. Kohler was a jet pilot with the U.S. Air Force, flying T-33 fighters and B-47 bombers with the Strategic Air Command.  Like most others of that tribe whom I have met, the experience gave him an almost startling directness of manner.  On meeting him, you quickly became aware of his plainspoken honesty.  He was incapable of bending the truth or hiding his opinions behind obfuscations—traits that surely did not help him when he ran for public office.

He passed away at age 82 on September 20.

Terry Kohler was the sort of businessman who gives capitalism a good name.  After gaining degrees in industrial management at M.I.T., he guided the Sheboygan, Wisconsin-based Vollrath Company, a manufacturer of stainless-steel kitchen equipment, from relative obscurity to a $300 million per year business.  He believed that corporate entities, especially family-held businesses of this sort, have special responsibilities to their employees and host communities.  For decades, he provided hundreds of well-paying, secure industrial jobs to the people of Sheboygan County and generous gifts to their hospitals and charities.

A lifelong sailor, he purchased in 1984 the North Sails Company, the world’s leading manufacturer of racing and cruising sails.  By the year 2000, almost every yacht competing for the America’s Cup and similar prizes used the North Sails product.

Politics ran in Terry Kohler’s blood.  He was the grandson and son of governors of Wisconsin.  In 1980, he secured the Republican Party nomination for a U.S. Senate seat; two years later, he carried the GOP banner for the office of governor.  Although defeated both times, he did recruit as his campaign manager the former Mary Stewart of Rockford, Illinois.  In January 1981, they married at St. Boniface Episcopal Church in Mequon, Wisconsin.

Terry and Mary were a formidable team.  They were instrumental in the election of many Republicans in the state, including the successful governors Tommy Thompson and Scott Walker.  Befriending Newt Gingrich in the early 1990’s, they played a central role in drafting his Contract With America.  They donated the use of the corporate jet that carried Gingrich around the country during the congressional campaign of 1994, which returned control of the U.S. House of Representatives to the GOP for the first time in decades.  Terry and Mary co-piloted the plane.

A keen sportsman, Terry Kohler raced cars during the 1960’s, spent six years on the National Ski Patrol, and held life memberships in the National Rifle Association, Ducks Unlimited, and Trout Unlimited.  He and Mary built, operated, and frequently resided in a trout-fishing resort in the mountains of southern Chile.  They were the necessary figures in successfully implementing the Whooping Crane Recovery Project, involving the use of ultralight aircraft to lead young birds from Wisconsin to Florida.  They accomplished similar missions in the restoration of the trumpeter swan to Wisconsin and the Siberian crane to Russia, personally flying on numerous occasions unhatched eggs to their new locations.  For this work, they received the 2009 Charles Lindbergh Award, given to those who make a significant contribution toward balancing technology and nature.

Terry and Mary Kohler were extraordinarily generous with their wealth.  Between 1997 and 2012, they distributed over $20 million dollars through the Charlotte and Walter Kohler Charitable Trust alone.  Many gifts went to conservation causes.  They also supported numerous paleontology projects.  Mary was a veteran of dinosaur digs.  They made major gifts to organizations supporting marriage as well.  Having seen his first marriage fail, Terry understood that divorce damaged not just the couple and their children, but extended families and communities.  He said, “we ought to make it as easy and desirable as possible for people to maintain intact families.”

Terry and Mary Kohler were good and loyal friends of this magazine.  Indeed, Mary served on the board of directors of the parent Rockford Institute for nearly two decades, including a term as chairman, and she remains director emerita.  Next door, at The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, Terry and Mary funded the Kohler Fellowships, which helped produce a dozen books, doctoral dissertations, and major articles with pro-life and pro-family themes.  They were also mainstays of the Center’s World Congress of Families project.  Their support included lending it the advice and labors of their foundation program officer Roberta Kraft.

Terry Kohler was a Christian man who favored traditional Anglicanism.  Mary and he gave special support to Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Wisconsin, dedicated to that form of Christian orthodoxy.  As he recently wrote, “I try to live my life faithfully, quietly doing the job the Lord assigned me.  I am not worried or afraid of dying because I am just an instrument.  I will be here until my work for Him is finished.”

He was, in short, a Complete Man, the sort whom the founders of this country hoped would people their Republic.

Terry Kohler is survived by Mary, seven children, thirteen grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.  May he rest in peace.