Nurturing Democracy


By Maryanne George
Oct 15, 2008

On a steamy day in August, when many people would be soaking up the last days of summer, Ron Weiser (UM ’66) is on the campaign trail with Senator John McCain in Michigan. A national co-chair for McCain, Weiser has a personal commitment to electing McCain as the next president. In 2002, when Weiser was U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia, McCain, then chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, made a visit there.

“He spent a day in the country and stemmed problems I was having bolstering voter turnout for a critical election,” Weiser says. “He earned my loyalty.”

Building relationships that can make a difference is what drives Weiser. When he became ambassador to Slovakia in November 2001, he saw what a difference he could make in the emerging democracy. 

It was a role that required dramatic adjustments, including giving up his posts as chairman and CEO of McKinley Associates and numerous public service activities. He moved to Slovakia with his wife, Eileen (UM ’75), and young son, Daniel, and was accompanied by bodyguards and received a death threat.

But the rewards of the new challenge, Weiser says, included witnessing the efforts of the nation’s young people and civil society to nurture the emerging democracy.

“There’s no such thing as relationships between countries,” Weiser says. “There are relationships between people in countries.” His experiences convinced him that studying the role of civil society in countries attempting to achieve freedom is vital to understanding how democracies are born.

To further this research, Weiser and his wife have donated $10 million to the International Institute in LSA to advance interdisciplinary study of and public engagement with Europe and Eurasia.

The gift will establish the Ronald and Eileen Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia (WCEE) and includes funding to support the Ronald and Eileen Weiser Professor, who will become director of the WCEE, as well as funding for graduate fellowships. With matching funds from the University President’s Donor Challenge Fund, the Weiser gift will total $11.5 million.

Reprinted from LSA Magazine