When I first met Ward Morehouse in May 1995 at a weekend “Rethinking the Corporation” retreat in Wisconsin’s “driftless” region—he considered Wisconsin his “old stompin’ ground”–he asked to see my just-published first book. Returning the book the next morning, he made a few trenchant remarks that left no doubt that he had read the whole thing.
Of course, I was flattered that an eminence grise would be interested in my work. Even more than that, I was not a little amazed that he had managed to do this despite actively taking part in the intense socializing that accompanied that hopeful gathering.
I didn’t agree with every call Ward made. But when I approached him with an issue, I knew that he would offer more than the impatient, strained, short silence that often passes for listening. He was pleased, not threatened, by new information and ideas. He never responded by intimating that of course he already knew that. You were in for a thoughtful intellectual exchange, leavened with wry humor and sprigs of insight. I never heard him make a self-serving comment.
Ward’s causes and projects were things he really believed in, not vehicles to carry him to celebrity activist status. Where others rushed to the limelight and basked therein, Ward hung back and let others take credit. Where others sought cheerleaders and acolytes, Ward sought colleagues. He nurtured people, and created opportunities for them to grow, explore, and develop. He was self-effacing, not self-promoting; a strategizer, not a schemer.
He let others, not always deserving, hitch a ride on his well-earned reputation for integrity and courage. If Ward had a fault, it was that he was sometimes unaware that others were using him, not only to promote themselves, but to do so in directions that would not meet Ward’s high ethical standards.
And by the way, anybody who knew Ward also knows that no one would have gotten away with calling him an eminence grise within his earshot. So Ward, if you are listening now—and you probably are—I’m taking advantage of your physical absence to call you the eminence grise that you will always be. You are well remembered, sorely missed, and fondly recalled.
Now, organize those angels.
Jane Anne Morris, September, 2012