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For Jerry. With Gratitude.
He was going on a trip. Patagonia. I was one of the fortunate ones - maybe in the thousands - to get a chance to follow the adventure.
“I am checking my email lists in anticipation of sending some photographs taken on a forthcoming trip to Patagonia. If you wish to be deleted from the list, please let me know and I will delete you from the list.”
But I didn’t. I bet no one did. And so the last few communications I had from William “Jerry” Hume were pictures of his lodge, the amazing “Fitzroy glacier” in South America, the path he and his incredibly beautiful wife Patti took along the Paine River, and so much more.
A few days after he returned home, he died, peacefully, soon after, I’m told, one of his characteristic walks around the Presidio, near the home he loved. Among his last views was no doubt the Golden Gate Bridge, which was prominent outside his study window.
I know that view. It’s where we sat to meet, to talk, to have cocktails. Around that study were all the pictures (though they’re everywhere in the home), the books, letters and reports he got from the hundreds of groups and people he helped over the years. I was always just a tad envious when I’d see them, like I wasn’t the only one in his world - because he certainly made you feel like you were the only one most of the time. But then he’d start talking about what FTE or one of his many other favorite groups, was up to, and you’d immediately be drawn in to share in his delight with their incredible work.
And as he talked, I’d forget why I came - the business reason, that is - and every visit to the Humes would just become a lovely, personal visit.
Jerry was truly one of a kind.
He bragged incessantly about his kids, and then later, about his grandkids. They all lived nearby. What a quality life to have!
As I looked back at my emails with him over the last several years since he retired and started spending more time with the family, this one really stands out.
He sent me an article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in Dec. 2020, during that awful time of Covid.
It was titled, simply, The Science of Gratitude.
“What does it mean to be grateful?
“At its root, it’s a dual action, a combination of appreciating the good things in life and recognizing that someone else is responsible for them…”
It goes on to reference studies and how gratitude can actually make us sleep better. And then it continues:
“Making a concerted effort to show gratitude for others in one’s life can help generate a feeling of support. It creates a sort of network of goodwill.”
And that did it for me, as I read back.
That’s who he was. He created a network of goodwill.
I’d call when I was going to be in town. Can I stop by? Jerry was the man who helped me found the Center for Education Reform from its start, he was a board member for years, a donor, and through it all, he was above all a friend.
He’d say, “come to our house for dinner.” And whenever I’d go, there’d be someone else, many others sometimes. He’d say, “you’ll find these people very interesting. You need to know them.”
And they were. And I did.
He and Patti would lead us in a lovely prayer of gratitude for our family, our friends, our nation, our work. And then he’d start. The questions. Oh, the questions! Just to get everyone talking and sharing.
“Tell me, how is it that…?”
He’d turn to another guest, or a grandkid who was invited in, or one of his amazing children or their spouses, and ask them to reflect on what was being said. Everyone contributed something, and none of it was insignificant. He’d lead. We would follow. Happily. And he’d thank you for coming and make you feel like you were among the most important contributions of his day. Talk about gratitude!
Time passed. We hadn’t been in touch for a while. I wrote him in the midst of COVID.
“Happily we are well,” he responded. “Patti and myself. It’s almost like having a second honeymoon. The kids are well spreading their wings and we’re proud of them and their kids - truly.
“Jeanne, we are really blessed.”
Earlier that year he must have gotten the book I sent him.
“So Jeanne now you are an author —- a lady of many talents. Thank you for thinking of me. I remember visually when I first met you back at the Heritage Foundation many years ago and you had me on the stage addressing the group about the need for education reform. That was a long time ago. Patti reminds me that you were in the throes of bringing Johnny into the world.”
Indeed, that’s where it started. It was 1988. I was organizing my first major event at Heritage, “Can Business Save Education?”
I’ll never forget. I was at my desk, pretty late, and the phone rang. This man says:
“I just got a note about this event coming up. My name is Jerry Hume and I am a member of the California Business Roundtable and I can tell you a lot about the standards that education needs to adopt.”
We talked a bunch and I didn’t really know who he was, but asked if he’d like to speak. It wasn’t until later that I found out he was a really big deal in our orbit. Jerry’s father was the late Jack “Jaqueline” Hume, a member of the Reagan “kitchen cabinet” and the prominent founder of the international business Jerry helped to lead. And Jerry himself was no slouch. But unlike most people that carry that kind of heft in life, you’d never have known it without the bio - and he’d never let on.
After the event, we held a small dinner. All of my speakers were there. Checker Finn - who became a lifelong friend of Jerry’s, the late John Chubb, and many others. And at dinner, and after hearing about educational choice all day which was just a shine in the proverbial choice movement’s eye, he was smitten. He came to understand back then that standards can move mountains only if there is an incentive for the system to change.
And the rest is history, as they say, but one that most people don’t know.
Jerry quickly became an evangelist and leader for changing the system, especially for higher standards to be adopted and for technology to play a role in its advancement. He addressed the serious impact of an undereducated populace on business and life in general wherever he could speak, like in this one he shared with me in 1990.
At the same time, he cautioned that schools would not be quick to pick up on the use of technology because “it ultimately will lessen their need for labor; and technology doesn't pay any union dues.” He was right.
He eventually was appointed to the National Assessment Governing Board that governs the Nation’s Report card, a place where he had a dramatic impact on raising and keeping standards high.
A few years later I was ready to move, to get my hands dirty in state efforts, outside of a think tank. So he came to town and I invited him to dinner.
It was Jerry I first pitched on the idea of starting the Center for Education Reform but he turned me down - that time. I hadn’t made my case.
So I went back to the drawing board, and some months later, I cashed in miles to visit him in SF, and pitched him again, this time drawing the positive distinction between Heritage, the new CER, and everyone else, (which wasn’t a big list, as it would be the first “edreform-only” group focused on the states.)
This time he said yes, with one caveat. He said he’d give me $30,000 if I could raise $100,000, and if I raised another $100K he’d give me thirty more, and so on.
The challenge was on!
This naval officer, Yale University grad, business leader and an all-around smart guy was trying to make sure I could and would do it, and that I was serious.
He didn’t make it easy. But he made it worthwhile - for both of us.
Jerry agreed to chair the Board, and led with a solid propensity for data, strong outcomes, collaboration and enjoyment. He helped me grow my business acumen and was a role model for leadership
And he is the primary reason CER exists today.
As his time became more stretched, he moved on. He joined and stayed on a few other boards, but we remained friends, and the foundation remained supportive of our work.
He always found time for a visit when he was in DC, as I did if I was out west.
One of our last official business meetings together was in February 2019. He wanted to talk to then-Senator Lamar Alexander, and give him ideas for what the U.S. Senate should be doing to advance competency-based education and outcomes as a condition for federal higher ed funding. So I secured the meeting and Jerry waxed on about the issues. But he wasn’t sure he got through to the Senator. He wrote to a colleague:
“We met yesterday with Senator Alexander. My impression of the meeting was that it was a courtesy on the part of the Senator.
“I made the statement that I thought there should be a connection between the receipt of funds in terms of Pell grants and student loans and transparency in regards to how the monies were used and the results of the funds i.e. student employment.
“I didn’t receive a clear statement on that subject…Jeanne, your thoughts?”
“Yes, Jerry,” I wrote him, “you had an impact. You are, once again, ahead of your time.”
He was always ahead of his time and had a strong, but quiet, impact that few people will ever really understand. Beyond the incredible fact that he was truly a first-rate, kind, thoughtful and caring human being to all those he knew, his impact on thousands of lives is seemingly less well-known.
Because if you or anyone you know has ever been the beneficiary of the work of the Center for Education Reform, you have Jerry to thank for it. I can’t speak for his impact on other groups, which I know is huge, but for me, Jerry has left an indelible mark through the millions we’ve helped across 50 states, and now through the work in innovation we continue to do today, as he was already ahead of his time in advocating for using new tools to educate students.
But most importantly, he left a profound impact on me.
So raise a glass with me please when you read this, in gratitude, for Jerry’s example and involvement that catalyzed better lives for millions.
Cheers, old friend.