Remembering Senator John McCain

Too many remarkable people have passed away recently, among them the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin; celebrated playwright Neil Simon; and fundraising icon Jerry Panas, a personal mentor. Senator John McCain was one of the greats America lost in August -- a month ago today.

McCain was, of course, the legendary Republican senior senator from Arizona and Navy pilot during the Vietnam War who after being shot down on a combat mission spent over five years at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” as a POW. He returned home a changed man and eventually threw his hat into the political ring, winning a US Senate seat in Arizona in 1986 and running for president twice.

  Crouch & Associates' Wanda Urbanska with Senator John McCain on May 12, 2014.

Crouch & Associates' Wanda Urbanska with Senator John McCain on May 12, 2014.

Senator McCain represented what has become increasingly uncommon in Washington and America, no matter your party. He was a statesman who thought for himself. One of McCain’s mentors was legendary Democratic Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Washington state. From Jackson, McCain learned that members of Congress are charged with keeping American foreign and domestic policy consistent with our nation’s core values. He learned that voting your conscience is more important than keeping lock step with your party.

What I didn’t realize until Senator McCain passed away is that a member of our Crouch & Associates team was privileged to work with him. In May of 2014, when our Wanda Urbanska was the president of the Jan Karski Educational Foundation, she was introduced to the senator at the annual meeting of the American Jewish Committee. The foundation’s board of directors voted to present Senator McCain with its annual Spirit of Jan Karski Award. Wanda’s assignment was to persuade him to accept it.

When Wanda had a chance to speak with the senator and discuss the heroism and legacy of Jan Karski, she was impressed that the senator already knew a great deal about the legendary hero of the Polish Underground in World War II – especially his patriotism and love of country. What’s more, McCain identified with the famous courier who had been tortured by the Nazis on a military mission. (After careful deliberation, Senator McCain agreed to accept the award.)

As Senator McCain is laid to rest and hailed as one of the most consequential senators of the last half century, we can all remember to step outside our personal comfort zones of ideology or religion, race or nationality, to learn from others, as McCain did.  When we do so, we stretch ourselves, and grow, and do the hard work of building relationships and consensus rather than harboring prejudice and maintaining divisions.

Remembering Jerry Panas

All of us in the development world were saddened by the death a month ago today of philanthropy legend Jerold “Jerry” Panas at age 89. The news rippled out to everyone in our field, but was felt most acutely by those of us who knew him best.

I was privileged to work with Jerry in 2013 and 2014. Though neither of us were young and impressionable when we began our work together, I learned so much from him. Indeed, many of the lessons he imparted are now part of the credo at my performance consultancy, Crouch & Associates, where the skills of emotional intelligence and attention to detail are the cornerstone of everything we teach.

I first met Jerry at a Council of Independent Colleges conference in 1993 which I attended as the new president of Georgetown College in Kentucky. I was immediately taken with Jerry’s “presence” and even more struck by the fact that despite his legendary status, he didn’t want to talk about himself but wanted to learn about me. The other thing that you couldn’t help but notice was how well he dressed. He was wearing a coat and tie, crisp and buttoned up, the first time we met and consistently going forward, always looking as if his next appointment was with a photographer from Town & Country.

When I stepped down from Georgetown College after 22 years of service, Jerry invited me and my wife Jan to dinner in Chicago along with his wife, Felicity. On the spot, he offered me a chance to join Jerold Panas & Linzy Partners. “I started this firm as a ministry,” he said. “I know you will treat it the same way.” 

As the world knows, Jerry was extraordinarily persuasive; before long, Jan and I found ourselves living in the Windy City. Jerry and I worked together closely for a year and a half before I decided to return to North Carolina and start my own firm.

A cluster of memories about Jerry floods my mind as I make peace with his passing.

Jerry was a slow eater. When you dined with him, your best strategy was to eat slowly as well, because if you finished first and the wait staff removed your plate, Jerry would fuss at the waiter, telling him to come back when everyone was finished. He didn’t want to eat alone.

You couldn’t help but be struck by a myriad of quirks and interests that made Jerry uniquely Jerry: not only the brilliance of his mind, his quick wit and remarkable ability to connect with people and develop a plan of action for a nonprofit on the fly, but the joy he got from putting pen to paper, the art of penmanship, and the pride he took with his collection of fountain pens and inks. (He also collected grandfather clocks, briefcases, small books and mustard jars!)

Jerry loved to write, and his twenty books in the field are classics, written from the heart and from his own experience in a field he helped create. He never wavered from his calling. Today, thousands of fundraising professionals have been impacted by his teachings and his witness. Their ripple effect has impacted millions. As a friend, admirer, and protégé of Jerry Panas, I am one of those who was touched by him. I am honored to carry his mission forward.

Consider this: Your life has been impacted by the giants from whom you’ve learned. What will you remember about them when they are no longer with you?  

Whose Lap Have You Sat On?

On Friday this past week I was in Austin, Texas to participate in a board retreat for our newest client, Breakthrough Central Texas.  I arrived early and decided to visit the LBJ Presidential Library on the campus of the University of Texas.  It was a walk through history that I had lived in the 1950 and '60s.  As I looked at the pictures of Lyndon Johnson as a child, it was revealing whose “laps he had sat on” that gave him inspiration and motivation to be the President for the poor.

                                 Bill Crouch sits on the lap of a young Billy Graham.

                                Bill Crouch sits on the lap of a young Billy Graham.

I began thinking about the many people who had been my inspirations, even those whose laps I had sat on to feel their presence, their care and their hope for my future.  When I returned home I was struck by this picture in my office that I walk by every day and take for granted. I had the good fortune to know the Reverend Billy Graham as a child. My grandfather had been his minister, and they forged a close friendship. This photograph was taken in 1956 in my grandparents' home Asheville, North Carolina. I was five years old. My leading memory from that moment was Reverend Graham's kindness and his total focus on me. For those moments we were together, it was as if I were the only person in the world. It is a lesson I have carried with me ever since. A test of the success of any encounter -- whether with a toddler or a centenarian -- is when I provide that person with my total focus.

Consider this: Your life is a combination of many factors, and one of these is the many individuals who have offered you a lap to sit on or a chair at the table, the chance soak in their presence and their approach to life. Who are they? If you could speak to them today, what guidance would you seek? What have you learned from their lives?  What can you teach to others through the living of your life?





This weekend I was preparing for a presentation I will be making at the upcoming NC Center for Nonprofits annual symposium.  While looking through old files, I came across this email I received in September 9, 2009.  The subject was: “Alone in the Night.”  It was about my childhood hero at my alma mater, Wake Forest University. 

“In 1963, Daryll Hill endured scorn.  A wide receiver for the University of Maryland football team, Hill was the first black player to break into the racially segregated Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).  Each week, Hill encountered hostile crowds with some opposing fans dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes or holding large dangling nooses. 

 Daryll Hill - University of Maryland

Daryll Hill - University of Maryland

During one game at Wake Forest, Hill faced a particularly vitriolic atmosphere.  Brian Piccolo, a Wake player, crossed the field to Hill and led him directly in front of the frothing Wake student section.  Piccolo wrapped his arm around Hill – and just stood there with him.  Almost instantly, the crowd went silent.”

 Brian Piccolo - Wake Forest University

Brian Piccolo - Wake Forest University

Simple presence with another can be a powerful and healing act.