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Hormel was isolated as child in Austin

Here are more questions answered by Jim Hormel, grandson of the founder of Hormel Foods Corp. and the first openly gay U.S. ambassador.

Hormel, now 78, has written his memoir.

How did your childhood shape the person you are today, your belief that people should embrace who they are?

I'm not quite sure. I (once) thought that Austin was not really the place where I would want to spend my life, but when I've reflected on it and when I've come back to visit, I've thought this was a community where I could fit in — in spite of the fact that Austin was a company town, and my family ran the company.

That made it very difficult; it caused great isolation for me as a child. It was partly because there were security matters; when I was 6 months old, there was a kidnap threat. I really don't remember a time in my life when I wasn't in some way being watched. That's not a comfortable way to grow up.


Of course, I didn't know (about the kidnapping). I was the only kid in school who got driven in by somebody wearing a uniform, and it embarrassed me. It really did. In that sense, I felt very isolated.

On the other hand, there is a culture I truly appreciate; it's a culture of caring for each other, it's a culture of kindness and support, which I felt in Austin, and which I still feel there.

When I look at what has been done on behalf of the growing immigrant population around Austin, I'm very admiring of the fact that the community has put together institutions that will help people to allow themselves to feel at home there. We all need to remember that we're all immigrants.

Hormel often takes a beating because of the immigration problem. What's your response to that?

I don't know, because I don't know what the circumstances are and I don't know just how much is being done and how much should be done. The fact is that the population base is shifting, and these are our fellow human beings and we're all living together on this planet that we'd better take good care of, because it's the only home we've got.

What keeps you busy these days?

Aside from pressing for social justice issues generally, and LGBT in particular, right now, the book is taking all my time. Normally, I'm involved in several philanthropic organizations and political boards (both in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco).

Keeping busy in one form or another keeps one alive. My mother learned English by doing crossword puzzles; I shouldn't say she learned it, but she certainly improved it a lot.


I have two days of meetings in Minneapolis, then I'm going to Virginia to see some of my children and grandchildren.

It's exciting to hear about people who come from here and then go on to do great things, isn't it?

I look at what's going on in Austin: here's an absolutely outstanding author (Amanda Hocking), and she's still in her 20s, and she's living in Austin. She's the talk of the writing world. And a guy who's living out in the country near Austin, composing music (John Maus).

I love going back there, I have a friend who I've known for a couple of generations; it's fun to get together with him and find out what's going on in his life and also what's going on in the life around Austin.

How are your ties now to Austin?

It's interesting, because there are many years that I spent little or no time in Austin. It's been well over 30 years since I served on the company board, so I haven't had a lot of reason to come back; I have no family in the area that I'm aware of, but I have come back from time to time to visit. I have a couple of friends in the community that I like to see.

I'm coming back this time for a very special occasion. Dick Knowlton and I were in grade school together, the last time in eighth grade, I think. (Our communication) is sporadic, but it's relatively close. I admire him immensely, and Nancy, I think, is just the most wonderful person, and the family is a lovely family.

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