Today is a very special, perhaps solemn, but very special day for me. I learned this morning of the passing of Dr. Theodore Hesburgh, “Father Ted.” For the link to the February 27, 2015 NY Times article informing readers of this great man, copy and paste this URL into your browser http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/28/us/rev-theodore-hesburgh-influential-ex-president-of-notre-dame-dies-at-97.html?emc=eta1. For me, a kid from South Bronx, meeting and working with Father Ted was just about the most important honor of my life.
As many know from reading my bio, I spent 45 years serving in various roles with The National Football Foundation. I was greatly honored in December 2014 to be the co-recipient of that 60 plus year’s institution’s Gold Medal. I shared this award with seven past US Presidents, “Wizzer” White, a Supreme Court Justice I used to escort to our annual dinner, numerous Fortune 100 CEOs and COOs and various Cabinet Secretaries, Senators, Generals, Admirals, etc. Wonderful as that experience was, by far, really by far, the top experience was that Father Ted had also been awarded the NFF Gold Medal. Working closely with Father Ted, and his number Two and partner at Notre Dame, Father Ned Joyce was beyond joy. They demonstrated and expected the highest performance, and it was easy when following two great men like these. Fathers Ted and Ned were not just historic in what they did for higher education (as is evidenced from the NY Times Article), but they were among the greatest United States leaders imaginable. They were stern in their leadership, accomplished in all they did, and simply two truly great human beings who happened to be Americans.
Father Ted, and Father Ned, loved the ideals of higher education and creating a greater country through those hallowed halls. They also loved collegiate football and the greatest qualities of the game – leadership, teamanship, healthy competition and honor. They were the country’s stewards of excellence, and they were our constant and unswerving partners at the National Football Foundation. When I started as a young attorney, not knowing much about them, it was their presence and obvious leadership that moved me to the point of becoming more involved with the institution. When people would ask why I spent so much time at the NFF, I would know that I could meet and work with people of the quality of Father Ted. I once told him that he let us down by not becoming the President of The United States. He smiled with that magical look of his. As always, I bowed to his wisdom and felt so blessed to have just been in his presence and to have worked with him in many involvements.
A Catholic Priest who was the 35-year President of a Midwestern University became, simultaneously the President of the Board of Overseers of Harvard University. I was always amazed at this, but I understood it. That and so many other involvements and awards Father Ted received honored not just him, but our country.
Our country and I are deeply blessed to have had this great man in our midst. I had no tears at his passing, just pride. Pride that my time on this planet had permitted me to know and work with a man like this. Pride that higher education and collegiate football had enjoyed his participation. Pride that our great country, the United States of America, could produce such a just warrior, a man above all other men, and someone who worked for all of humanity. His leadership in civil rights also showed this. A really great man and a really great country to have produced and promoted him. The blessings to me and us are almost beyond words.
Goodbye Father Ted. Thanks for everything you were and for all you did for all of us. Not just your Note Dame family. Not just all college grads, teachers and administrators. Not just the six US Presidents you served. No, for all of us. Your civil rights record, your many leadership roles, are, I believe, still unmatched in our great nation. No, thanks for and from all of us.
Finally, we know where you surely are, and please say hello to Father Ned for us.