There was a memorial service last weekend at the Hay-Adams here in DC for a man who made a difference. His name was Clarence M. Ditlow and in this town of constantly shifting personalities and revolving-door careers, he stayed at the same job for 43 years. He was a lawyer as well as an engineer who directed the Center for Auto Safety.
Because of Clarence, all of the safety improvements in our automobiles made over the past few decades happened. The auto companies didn't put in airbags or seat belts or a lot of devices you aren't entirely aware of out of the goodness of their hearts. Clarence testified on the Hill, in the states, and on TV and radio so that laws were passed making them make these improvements for safety. He also was responsible for getting many "lemon laws" passed that allow people to go to court to get back the money they paid for a bum car.
He came from an auto dealer family, as Ralph Nader noted in his talk at the service. Clarence understood cars but even more, he understood people and Washington. He did his homework. He knew the records of problems reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration better than the people who worked there.
He always kept his cool. The auto lobbyists would show up and scream and yell about how much this or that needed fix was going to cost them. Clarence refused to be provoked. He just went back to his office and did some more research and preparation, because he also went to court against them when he had to.
I wish I had seen Clarence more often or knew more people like him. There never are enough people like him. Nader said Clarence was responsible for saving millions of lives. How many people do you know about whom you can say that? I'd see him now and then at a farmer's market we both stopped at on Saturday mornings and sometimes with Marilyn, now his widow, whom we had known forever, or so it seemed.
This is someone who will be missed.