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August 2, 2016

Faces of Fauquier: He seeks to inspire activism, blind

Photo/Don Del Rosso
“I had a close relationship with him,” Ken Rietz says of Richard Nixon.
Contributed Photo
Ken Rietz (left) with U.S. Sen. Bill Brock (R-Tenn.) and President Richard M. Nixon in the White House.
President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev flank Mr. Rietz.
The Nixon that I knew was not a so-called Tricky Dick. He was a very warm, cordial, straight-forward guy that cared about his country and thought he was doing the right thing.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
He retired 10 years ago after a long career as a Republican Party strategist and public affairs executive.

With time on his hands, “I was looking for something to do,” recalled 75-year-old Ken Rietz of Delaplane. “And, I decided to go back through all the papers and things I had accumulated, from all the campaigns and other activities I had been involved in.”

The project began modestly. “I wanted to create a document to give to my son,” explained Mr. Rietz, blind since the age of 49 because of a lifelong, degenerative eye disease.

But, the Wisconsin native said he and his wife, Ursula Landsrath, “really got interested in it about a year ago, because I thought it might be a book of interest to other people, particularly my experience going blind and how I learned the craft of political strategy.

“The reason I published the book was to inspire young people to get into politics and to inspire people who are visually challenged about the life you can still have.”

Publisher Mascot Books on Monday released the 216-page “Winning Campaigns: Losing Sight, Gaining Insight.”

The autobiography tells of how a “middle class kid” and “son of a mailman” became a top GOP consultant and operative. It details his work as a senior executive with Burson-Marstellar, once the world’s largest public relations firm.

Mr. Rietz figures he worked on more than 100 political campaigns, including successful presidential bids by Richard M. Nixon and Ronald W. Reagan.

He became friendly with President Nixon during the 1972 campaign.

“I had a close relationship with him,” Mr. Rietz said during an interview at his home just north of Delaplane. “I never saw the so-called dark side of Nixon. The Nixon that I knew was not a so-called ‘Tricky Dick.’ He was a very warm, cordial, straight-forward guy that cared about his country and thought he was doing the right thing.”

The book includes his take on the Watergate scandal and President Nixon’s downfall. (“He got caught up in a cover-up that I don’t think was of his making.”) Mr. Rietz also explains how he got unfairly “tarnished” by the Watergate investigation. (“The press jumped to conclusions.”)

The book chronicles Mr. Rietz’s 16-year career with Burson-Marstellar, during which he and his wife travelled the world. “Because I was blind, I stipulated that Ursula would go with me,” he said. Ms. Landsrath accompanied him on the firm’s tab.

Writing the book proved more labor-intensive than expected, he said.

“I worked on it a little at a time” for about nine years, while advising clients part-time, Mr. Rietz said. “Last year, we worked on it three hours a day. I dictated to Ursula. There’s more writing from her than me. But, it is my story.”

In his spare time, Mr. Rietz raises money for the Animal Rescue Fund, which his wife established in 2010. Ms. Landsrath serves as president.

The couple holds two large annual events at their 100-acre property. During the last six years, the nonprofit group has distributed more than $500,000 to dozens of organizations.

• Age
75

• Home
Delaplane

• Work
Public relations executive, Burson-Marstellar, 1990-2006; Republican Party volunteer, strategist, 1964-present; worked on more than 100 political campaigns; Republican National Committee Chairman, 1973.

• Family
Wife, Ursula Landsrath; son, Kenneth Jr.

• Education
Attended George Washington University, 1960-64; attended U.S. Naval Academy, July-December 1959; West High School, Minneapolis, Minn., 1959.

• Civic involvement
Helped raise more than $500,000 for Animal Rescue Fund of Delaplane since organization’s founding in 2010.

• How long have you lived in Fauquier?
Sixteen years.

• Why do you live here?
What attracted us most were the people. The people were so friendly. It’s an easy county to live in. We’re 25 minutes from Warrenton, 25 minutes from Middleburg, 25 minutes from Winchester. We’re surrounded by a constant social life – Twilight Polo, Twilight Jumpers (at Great Meadow near Old Tavern), the Upperville Colt Show, the county fair. There’s so much to do here. We’re never bored.

• How do you describe this county?
Rural. Quiet. Friendly. We have more friends here than anywhere else we have lived.

• What would you change about Fauquier?
I hope Fauquier doesn’t change. What attracted us is the rural nature of the county and the people we met. I know it has to change. You have to have growth, because if you don’t you’ll be stagnant. The towns die. But, if the county sticks to its (comprehensive) plan, it will be controlled growth.

• What do you do for fun?
I see a lot of my friends. I go to lunch and dinner with them. I talk a lot about politics. People ask me about this campaign and that campaign. I give a lot of free advice (laughs).

• What’s your favorite place in Fauquier?
My favorite place is where I live. Just look around.

• What will Fauquier be like in 10 years?
I hope Fauquier in 10 years will be similar to what it is today. I think the growth is controlled growth. I hope it doesn’t follow Loudoun and Prince William and some of the other counties like them. I hope it will remain rural. We have put our land (100 acres) in an easement and encourage other people to.

• Favorite TV show?
I listen to the news shows. I listen to Fox News and “60 Minutes” – those kinds of things. I listen to the Nationals and the Redskins. I have some favorite shows on PBS – “Doc Martin,” “Inspector Morse.” The reason I enjoy them is the dialogue. I can’t follow shows with too much action. I listen to a lot of books on tape, so I’m not suffering from not watching TV.

• Favorite movie?
“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” When we watch movies, we watch ones made in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, because there’s a lot of dialogue and not a lot of action.

• Favorite book?
“Team of Rivals” (by Doris Kearns Goodwin). I like the fact that (Abraham Lincoln) brought together people in his administration based on their abilities and qualities, rather than whether they were all in agreement. I thought was a good way to do it.

• Favorite vacation spot?
Delaplane. I was in public relations for 16 years with Burson-Marsteller. They had 70 offices around the world. We traveled a lot. So staying home is a vacation. Going through an airport is a nightmare. By the time we get somewhere, it’s better to stay home.

• Favorite food?
Cheeseburger. I’m a guy with complicated tastes.

• What is the best advice you have ever received? From whom?
The best advice I ever received was from my wife. When I first met her, I wasn’t telling people about my vision problem. Her advice, after I got to know her, was “Stop faking it” and tell people the truth. That advice changed the way people treated me, because I was suddenly honest with them. And, instead of thinking I was rude or aloof, they understood that I actually couldn’t see them.

• Who’s your hero and why?
Ronald Reagan. He was able to communicate with people what his true thoughts were. He never wavered from what he believed. He was true to his beliefs in everything he did.

• What would you do if you won $1 million in the lottery?
Turn it over to Ursula for the Animal Rescue Fund.

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Do you know someone who lives in Fauquier County you would like to see in Faces of Fauquier? E-mail Don Del Rosso at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), Cassandra Brown at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or Editor Lou Emerson at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) .
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