Whether acting as a political adviser to President Richard Nixon or saving souls in eastern Europe, the focus of St. Matthews native Harry Dent Sr. was always the same.

His spiritual journey from leading architect for the Republican Party in the South to a 25-year career in the ministry is lovingly chronicled by Dent's daughter in "Finding True Freedom: From the White House to the World."

The elder Dent, along with Henry Kissinger, were the only two Nixon staffers not given prison sentences following the Watergate scandal. Author Ginny Dent Brant says her father's motivating passion in everything he did was defending freedom.

"Later (former Nixon staffer Bob) Haldeman would say my father couldn't be trusted because, 'He is a goody two-shoes Boy Scout,'" Brant said. "Ironically enough, the Scouting program was an integral part of his life.

"If he had been in the meeting with Nixon and his staff where Watergate was discussed, he would have been caught up in the cover-up. Even a staff person who was under (Dent) said he wasn't involved."

Dent's family consisted of an alcoholic father, his mother and five brothers, of which Dent was the youngest. Two brothers died in World War II, and another suffered injuries during his service. Although he served in the military during the Korean War, he was pulled from combat duty when the loss of his brothers was discovered.

Following his graduation from Presbyterian College in Clinton, Dent began working for U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond. It was through his work with Thurmond and three presidents that Dent became known as the developer of the Republican "Southern strategy."

Brant preceded her father in giving her life to God. She says Dent's conversion was gradual, but he eventually changed his definition of success and freedom by letting God lead him.

"My dad almost put his family under doing what he did for Nixon," Brant said. "He was never home at a time when he had four children in their teen years. He later apologized to us for that. He looked back with regret.

"He eventually learned that his faith comes first. The first mission is the family, then your vocation."

Dent would later leave his legal and political career to assist underground churches in Romania and help the country shake off communism. However, before his acceptance of Jesus Christ into his life, Brant says he tried to dissuade her from following a spiritual path.

"I wanted to leave my modeling career and transfer to Columbia International University," Brant said. "He said if I went there, I would never be a success.

"I went anyway. It was the hardest decision I had ever made. I had to follow my heavenly Father, and it was hard to say no to my father, who had advised presidents.

"He eventually became everything he tried to forbid me to become. He genuinely loved me and tried to direct me elsewhere because he thought that was best for me. When he died in 2007, he had his memorial at CIU. That shows you God's sense of humor."

Although he allowed God to dictate his actions, Dent continued to fight for the freedom he valued as an American in his newfound career. Brant says once former Romanian Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown in 1989, her father helped the Romanians politically and spiritually.

"They had the hardest time because the country was almost destroyed by communism," Brant said. "He jumped in with both feet and said to the political leaders, ‘I will do everything I can to help you as long as I live.'

"He got political leaders from South Carolina, such as (U.S. Congressman) Joe Wilson and (former Columbia Mayor) Bob Coble to help. Other businessmen, bankers, doctors and all kinds of people from different walks of life helped Romania come to freedom."

After her father's death from Alzheimer's, Brant says she realized everything her father fought for in his political life is now going in the opposite direction.

"My dad was seeing the decline in America and more from a lack of morality than a political direction, but he was concerned about both," Brant said. "It is still in our power to change things. When you turn back to God and put faith first, other things fall into place."

Contact the writer: psarata@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5540.

 

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