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?