Gazette Article by: Jane Lord
Appeared in the Gazette: Winter 1998
“I saw history in the making. I knew intimately the men who carried the destiny of our country in their hands during times of great crisis, heard the temper of their speech, and watched their minds and wills at work.” These are the words of Clarence Belden Randall, a 42-year resident of Winnetka who is well remembered for his distinctive service to the village, the business community, and the nation.
Born in 1891, Randall spent his childhood in a small upstate New York town where his father ran a general store. At Harvard College he debated on its varsity team and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. In 1915, after receiving an LLB degree from Harvard, Randall was admitted to the Michigan Bar and accepted a position with a cousin’s law firm in Ishpeming, Michigan.
His career was interrupted by America’s entry into the first World War; Randall served overseas as a captain in the U. S. Army.
Randall first attracted the attention of Inland Steel when he won a law suit against the corporation. In 1925 the company hired him as assistant vice president in charge of its iron mines, and he, his wife, and their two daughters moved to Winnetka. At Inland Randall rose to president in 1949 and chairman in 1953. When President Truman seized steel mills during the Korean War to forestall a strike, Randall became a national celebrity as spokesman for the steel industry. An articulate and forceful speaker and writer, he authored 11 books on subjects ranging from corporate management to successful retirement. He was an avid bird watcher, and in middle age learned to speak fluent French.
During the Great Depression Randall was president of the Winnetka School Board. Later he reflected, “While I was being indoctrinated into the mysteries of progressive education, I had to learn economics. The collection of taxes was suspended for 18 months, and we had to run the schools on funds voluntarily advanced by the taxpayers.” He faced another big challenge at Christ Church, where he headed an effort to raise $300,000 for building its parish house. His committee’s first meeting was the night after the 1929 stock market crash. At Randall’s urging the fund raising campaign proceeded and raised five per cent more than its goal. As his reputation as a successful fund raiser spread, Randall was elected general chairman of the Chicago Community Fund campaign, then appointed director of the National War Fund during World War II.
Randall continued in government service in the years following World War II. In 1947 he was steel consultant to the Economic Cooperation Administration in Paris. Prior to his retirement as chairman of Inland Steel in 1956, Randall served for five years as chief of the special U. S. Economic Commission to Turkey. He was a member of the Department of Commerce’s business advisory board and chairman of President Eisenhower’s Council of Foreign Economic Policy. In 1961 President Kennedy appointed him special emissary to Ghana.
Among the many awards Randall received during his lifetime, the most prestigious was the Medal of Freedom, the highest honor the president can confer on a civilian in peacetime. He also received honorary doctorates from 17 colleges, and the Chippewa tribe called him “man of iron” when it made him an honorary tribesman.
After his death in August 1967, the New York Times wrote of Randall: “He defended freedom for the individual by demonstrating how much one free American could contribute to advancing the total welfare.”