Sunday, November 11, 2012

My Own Mount Rushmore

William C Friday
Rushworth Kidder
                     John Medlin Jr
                     William Raspberry
This year these four men died.  Each had as part of their public and private persona that which I greatly admire — individual responsibility and integrity.  

Rushworth Kidder was the first of these men that I crossed paths with.  I was getting ready for an important job interview and searching for materials to educate me.  It was a job I really, really wanted but I did NOT possess the expected qualifications. I came across an article written by someone with an unusual name in a newsletter for — of all things — county managers.  It was entitled "Shared Human Values" about the common ground we share and can build on.  When I read it, I thought, "Hey, this is what I believe and have been doing versions of all along in my K-12 work. This is something I know and can contribute to."  The article was by Rushworth Kidder.  I got the job.

As a journalist for The Christian Science Monitor, Kidder was the first western reporter allowed in to Chernobyl and what he learned astounded and changed him.  He referred to Chernobyl not as an accident, but as a human "moral meltdown" and it led him eventually to create the Institute for Global Ethics, where he lived his ethics for the rest of his life.  He was famous for the "right vs right" dilemma — the way he explained it to me: "People know the difference between right and wrong and they don't always choose to do what's right.  But what keeps us up at nights is when there are competing "rights" — do you tell the truth? or are you loyal and stay silent to protect someone?  These are real dilemmas: truth vs loyalty, justice vs mercy, short term vs long term and the individual vs community."

The job led me to meet John Medlin who was always gracious and helpful to me in every way.  The first time I was on a local educational talk show, I was horrified when it aired on TV.  The entire time I was nodding my head in agreement with everyone — I looked like a bobble-head doll.  When John saw it he sent me a note that said, "The show was great and by far, you were the STAR."  His kindness made me feel so much better about my awkward performance.  John was a well-respected finance CEO who was a straight-shooter and a gentleman; some of his business maxims will acquaint you with his character.
  • Answer your own phone by two rings.  Clean out your in box everyday.  
  • Don’t let the sun go down without responding to a customer inquiry.  Even if you don’t have the answer, tell them that. [This is known as the sundown rule.] 
  • Don’t let the urgent always crowd out the important.
  • It takes a century to build a great reputation it can take a second and one wrong decision to ruin it.
Also through the job I was fortunate to meet Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist for The Washington Post, William Raspberry, a straight-talking no-nonsense practical commentator on life who called it as he saw it, in spite of what others might think.  What he wrote often ruffled feathers and he continued ruffling right up until the end.  Here are some excerpts from his final column in 2008: 

The schools black children attend don't work as well as they should — but most often for reasons that have less to do with white attitudes than with our own. Many black children — and too many of their parents — don't value education. If they do, they see it as a debt owed rather than a prize to be earned ... [Obama's}  ascendancy to the most powerful political position in the world does not mean an end to black problems — including the problem of racial discrimination.  But it may allow our children to begin to see life as a series of problems and possibilities and not just a list of grievances.

In the meetings I was in with ill, he didn't say much, but what he said cut to the heart of the matter in the most direct and understated way.  After he retired from teaching and writing, Bill Raspberry started a foundation Baby Steps, in his hometown of Okolona, Mississippi, focused on engaging parents of very young children to get involved in their education.

And last but never least, William Friday, an icon of the southern gentlemen who promoted education and philanthropy through an ole-boy's network.  Soft-spoken in voice but solid-steel when brokering a deal, Bill Friday moved the state's college education system toward integration and help drive a seismic shift from an agrarian economy to one targeted on education, high tech, research and development  not an easy feat.  He was founding co-chair of the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics and worked relentlessly to promote integrity in college athletics.  I felt he was disappointed that after fifteen-plus years, the college sports machine didn't fully embrace their responsibility for building character along with athleticism.  When I went to him for advice on my character development program he made me feel as if what I was creating was the most important and valuable thing in the world.  The The William and Ida Friday Continuing Education Center, named for Bill and his wife, was where I took my writing class Write Your Life.

I am grateful for the lessons I learned from each of these men (yes, I realize the figures on my Rushmore are all male).  These are the faces today's MBA candidates should be learning about and looking up to.

I wanted to acknowledge the passing of these four men...who would be on your Mount Rushmore?


  1. Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and Obama, all took freedom away from the American people and replaced it with dependency on the federal government. All of these men have circumvented the Constitution

  2. Loved your choices and your Mount Rushmore analogy! I still am pondering my choices. You have me thinking!!
    Love you, too!