An inspiring ceremony last week at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts memorialized the life of financial journalist and philanthropist Austin H. Kiplinger, who died Nov. 20 at age 97.
The attendees Dec. 11 included the incoming secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Dr. David J. Skorton, who delivered a speech earlier in the week outlining his vision for the world’s largest museum.
The scenes symbolized a succession in American public life by two of the nation’s great civic leaders of recent times. They have embodied a passion for learning, culture, and a just society by fostering enduring institutions of the kind necessary to foster a decent society.
The departure of one and arrival of the other on the Washington scene prompts today’s column, which differs from our normal revelations and commentary about disturbing developments. Positive portrayals should be part of the picture also.
Kiplinger’s remarkably varied and important civic endeavors brought forth admirers who nearly filled the vast ground floor of the Kennedy Center for his memorial.
Former Cornell President Frank H.T. Rhodes (1977 to 1995) delivered a powerful tribute to Kiplinger, a 1939 graduate of the university who served 55 years on the university’s board. The university founded in 1865 with a number of innovations is located on a hill overlooking Ithaca in central New York’s Finger Lakes region.
Skorton (shown in a file photo at right) spoke separately at the nearby National Press Club Dec. 8 to describe his plans for the Smithsonian after serving as Cornell’s president from 2006 until earlier this year. The Smithsonian complex operates 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park, and various research facilities.
The Kiplinger and Skorton sagas resonate strongly with this editor on a personal level. I benefited from a scholarship-assisted education at Cornell, where I studied history and prepared for a reporting and legal career by writing for the Cornell Daily Sun student newspaper. I’ve lived and worked for nearly a quarter century less than a half-mile from the Smithsonian’s most famous museums and the National Press Club, where I’ve met both men and seen them in action.
Their careers prompt me to reflect also upon the continuing relevance of a 60-page booklet, “The Use and Abuse of History” by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) that was taught at Cornell nearly fifty years ago by Prof. Allan Bloom, later a best-selling author.
What follows draws from these experiences tools for problem-solving during the troubled times that the nation currently faces.