Bolton's path began in Baltimore

Background: Nominee for U.N. post started to cultivate his intellect at the Pratt Library and later the McDonogh School.

March 13, 2005|By Stephanie Desmon and JoAnna Daemmrich | Stephanie Desmon and JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

History teacher Marty McKibbin used to linger over lunch with some of his favorite students at the McDonogh School in Owings Mills, then a military academy complete with buttoned-up uniforms, talking about the war in Vietnam long before much of the rest of the nation was paying attention.

One of McKibbin's most frequent sparring partners in the mid-1960s was a young man named John R. Bolton, a scholarship student from Southwest Baltimore who was his teacher's political opposite.

Bolton even referred to his instructor as "Mao" McKibbin - not to his face, of course.

"The students then were conservative, much more than they are now, but John went beyond conservative," McKibbin recalled. "His views then are very much in keeping with the Bush administration now, even though he still goes a bit beyond."

Bolton's path from Baltimore has taken him to fine schools, jobs with Washington law firms and conservative think tanks, and progressively higher-level posts in GOP administrations beginning with Ronald Reagan's.

Last week, after years as a caustic critic of the United Nations, Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, was nominated to a new position: U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Scathing criticism

Since his nomination, Bolton, 56, has been the subject of scathing editorials -The New York Times compared his appointment to naming newly released ex-con Martha Stewart to run the Securities and Exchange Commission - and criticism from Senate Democrats, who promised challenging confirmation hearings, as yet unscheduled.

Democrats questioned why someone who has repeatedly spoken so undiplomatically would be asked to represent the United States at the United Nations, especially when the Bush administration is trying to mend fences with allies.

He has also received a tepid response from some Republicans, who worry that his nomination might signal a harder line by the administration toward the world body.

Tough talker

Bolton's supporters describe him as the tonic the United Nations needs, a tough talker who can help the organization regain a larger role in world politics.

"I consider myself an advocate," Bolton told the McDonogh alumni magazine in a January interview for a story that will appear in its spring issue. "Frequently you hear diplomacy described as a skill of keeping things calm and stable and so on, and there's an element of that. But basically, American diplomats should be advocates for the United States. That's the style I pursue."

John Robert Bolton, the son of a city firefighter and a homemaker, grew up in a brick rowhouse in a working-class neighborhood behind Mount St. Joseph High School.

His parents taught him and his younger sister, Joni Enos, a registered nurse in Sykesville, to fight with their words, not with their hands.

It appears their son took that advice to heart.

Visits to the Pratt

His late mother, Virginia, recognizing her son's intelligence, took him to the Enoch Pratt Free Library, where she nurtured his interest in reading.

Bolton has told of trolley rides down Frederick Avenue as a fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grader to the library's headquarters on Cathedral Street, where he would return two books, take out two more and head home via the Paca Street firehouse where his father, Edward Jackson Bolton, known as Jack, was at work.

It was his mother who noticed an announcement about scholarships to McDonogh, a prestigious private school in Baltimore County.

She signed him up to take the admissions test; McDonogh accepted him. He started there in the seventh grade, living in the dormitory on campus until graduation.

Though a member of the firefighters union, Jack Bolton was also a Republican. Friends remember hearing about the elder Bolton trying to register to vote as a Republican but being told union members couldn't be Republicans.

After some back and forth, a compromise was reached: Jack Bolton, a Goldwater supporter, could register as an independent.

Goldwater backer

Meanwhile, at McDonogh, John Bolton was running the Students for Goldwater campaign. In his interview with the alumni magazine, he remembers the vote total.

It was close, much closer than the actual national race: Goldwater, 139 votes, to President Lyndon B. Johnson's 152.

Tim Wright, a classmate at McDonogh who is now a District Court judge in Chesapeake, Va., remembers working on that race with Bolton.

He recalls Bolton as fervent in his support.

"He was very bright, very studious, even in those days," Wright said in a telephone interview last week. "He had very strong beliefs. He was clearly focused, probably much more focused than most of his other classmates."

Foreign service

McDonogh's yearbook pages from those years reveal no surprises. Bolton - president of the history club and the chess club, member of the drama club, an editor of the paper and the yearbook - dreamed of a future in foreign service.

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