(Editor's note: The following are edited remarks from three speakers at a Nov. 17, 2008, reception held at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy's Midland, Mich., headquarters in honor of Lawrence W. Reed's transition to president emeritus of the Center and his new role as president of the Foundation for Economic Education.)
Good afternoon. I'm Joe Lehman, president of the Mackinac Center, and it's my pleasure to welcome you today to honor our friend and colleague, Larry Reed.
I think you are all well aware that Larry was the Mackinac Center's president for the last 20 years. On Tuesday we celebrated our 20-year anniversary with a gala in East Lansing. It was a grand affair with a record-breaking turnout of 628 of our closest friends, including some of you. This event is different. Tuesday night we celebrated an institution. Today, in a more intimate and personal way, we honor the man most responsible for building that institution.
We'll hear from some of the friends who have known Larry the longest, who watched the closest as Larry grew the Mackinac Center from humble and austere beginnings, and who most appreciate what Larry has done not just for Michigan, but for Midland.
Two members of our board of directors are with us. Joe Olson, our chairman, and Federal Circuit Court Judge Paul Gadola.
I have to confess, it wasn't my idea to honor Larry like this today. Bill Schuette called me a few weeks ago to ask "when are we going to have some kind of farewell party for Larry?"
Now, I didn't want to embarrass Bill by coming right out and telling him Larry isn't leaving, so we're not having a farewell party. So I diplomatically invited Bill to our anniversary gala in East Lansing. Bill ever so diplomatically informed me that some people in Midland wondered if Larry was pretty much severing his ties to Midland and the Mackinac Center. Bill told me the sense of some of our local friends was that Larry is leaving and they're not getting a chance to tell Larry goodbye and thank him for a job well done.
And so we knew we had to provide today's forum for all of you in the Midland area to congratulate Larry and hear about his plans. Larry's not one of those great men who we say are gone but not forgotten, because he hasn't disappeared from Midland. Larry lives here, he writes and speaks for us, and he's still on our board of directors. But he's also not going to end up like some people who just keep hanging around for no reason. You know the type, "forgotten but not gone."
I asked some special friends to offer brief remarks about Larry today. Now, I know you'll understand the sad circumstance that prevents one of them, Ranny Riecker, from being here. Ranny is a founding board member of the Mackinac Center. Ranny's husband, John Riecker, passed away just over a week ago. John was also a member of our board and our board room is named in honor of the two of them.
David Fry is president emeritus of Northwood University. David joined Northwood in 1965 as an economics instructor. He was named Northwood's president and CEO in 1982 and presided over enormous growth at that institution. He became a very active president emeritus two years ago.
Judge Bill Schuette. Bill has represented mid-Michigan in Congress and in the state Senate. He was director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture when he and his wife Cynthia formed the Michigan Harvest Gathering to feed hungry people throughout the state. From the state Senate, Bill won election to the Michigan Court of Appeals. Bill may or may not tell you that Larry Reed's unsuccessful Congressional bid in 1982 softened up incumbent Democrat Don Albosta for Bill's victory in 1984, but I've heard Larry say that lots of times.
It's now my pleasure to introduce our guest of honor. Larry's biography is one of the most impressive of any executive I know. But I'm not going to refer to his bio at all. Instead, it seems more appropriate to introduce him with a personal story.
Joe Overton, our late vice president, introduced me to Larry shortly after Larry opened the Mackinac Center's first office behind Pizza Sam's. Before long, Joe would convince me to quit a perfectly good job at Dow Chemical and join him and Larry and a small staff in changing the world. My job was to edit our publications and get us in the newspaper.
One day, on a Saturday, I caught Larry editing some of my edits. Rather than assume something must have been wrong with my edits, I told Larry that if he really still wanted to be our editor, I was pretty sure that Dow Chemical would take me back.
Well, he could have fired me on the spot. But instead, he recognized the moment as an opportunity to allow a coworker to reach his potential. Countless such decisions by Larry over the years exhibit what I believe is the trait that contributes most to his success - his humility. He never got caught in the trap of assuming no one could do it better than he could, even though almost no one could, at least not on the first try. Larry is a humble man, all the more remarkable for his heights of accomplishment.
Now I want to read to you what his staff told Larry, by inscribing words on a plaque the day he became our president emeritus - Sept. 1:
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy recognizes Lawrence W. Reed upon his elevation to president emeritus. For 20 years, he worked tirelessly and selflessly to build the Mackinac Center almost from scratch to become the nation's largest and most effective state-focused policy research institute. Assembling a superb staff, initiating brilliant ideas, writing thousands of articles and papers, delivering hundreds of speeches, raising millions of dollars and traveling hundreds of thousands of miles, he inspired countless freedom fighters around the globe and frustrated power-hungry bureaucrats, tyrants, politicians and union operatives. It is because of his efforts more than anyone's that the Mackinac Center is known as the state think tank with a national reputation and an international following. His entire staff expresses this day its most heartfelt thanks and congratulations on this milestone, and wishes for him the success and rewards he deserves as he takes the helm of the Foundation for Economic Education.
When Joe connected, asking me if I would say a few words about Larry, I said "Absolutely." I turned to Claudia and asked what she would advise. "How about the obvious?" she responded. "Student, teacher, entrepreneur, traveler." Perfect. Let's consider them one by one.
No one who truly makes a difference in the trajectory of life ever stops learning, and that surely describes Larry Reed. The life of an autodidact gives a platform for leadership. That also describes Larry. He has been a voracious learner, a student of life, since the day I hired him for Northwood until the day he turned over his baby, the Mackinac Center, to Joe. With Larry on the other end of a conversation one always knows the grounded truth he is espousing, but almost never the new example that illustrates it. He is an example of what he demands in others, which gives power to his guidance.
All of us who have made a life in teaching know two vital things about it: A). When we do it well it changes the world around us by creating a condition through which we can enhance others and, B). When we teach to able students, they make us better by asking tough, demanding questions that force us to better master our discipline. Their very un-knowingness forces us to respond to the obscure corners we have drifted past and thus hastens our growth as well.
Only the very brave among us have the courage to put our beliefs and teachings to the ultimate test - relying on a market response to our teaching to provide a demand for our basic economic needs. There are better and easier ways to gather universal friendship and agreement than to dare to establish, with no capital, a think that that purports to the philosophy of personal freedom and individual responsibility, and the public policy that best embodies that. It is a tough row to hoe, and Larry, with the Mackinac Center, has proven that with skill, the ability to embody truth in a compelling form, a very high tolerance for personal risk and what I imagine is an unrelenting safes effort, it can succeed. He has been what he recommends: an entrepreneur.
Finally, he somehow learned what many do not. That in order to understand life, one needs to visit it, wherever it is. Smell it. Taste it. Feel it. Walk its rocky road. Inhale its dusty reality. One needs to travel to it and take the opportunity not only to take from it, but enhance it where it is, on the ground, in its own situation. I learned this great truth from my wife who is similarly afflicted with the gene of travel, and thus can admire it for its singleness of value in others. Larry has that gene. He is a traveler.
And along the way he learned another thing as well. That it is best to finish just a bit before one has to, leaving just a little on the table, so that the food is left fresh for others. And when one does this, other venues open. The Foundation for Economic Education has had several Reeds in the past, but none better than the one now in its future. And we all gather in appreciate and celebration of our good fortune for the future FEE will have. I discovered FEE 49 years ago and it changed my life and direction. Today, in 2008, I know it still serves to change the direction of others and will be a factor for good in the lives of millions. I, for one, am delighted. I bet you are, too.
Thank you to the Mackinac Center for opening your doors to us today. I've had the privilege to be around a lot of think tanks over the years, and they're filled with a lot of smart people who crank out a lot of thoughts and lots of ideas about where America and the states ought to go. Places like the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, and these are great, high-quality groups, run by marvelous people who are talented and have a broad reach. They talk about ideas and offer things for us to think about as a society. But for me, and I think for many in this room, the Mackinac Center sets the gold standard.
Here at the Mackinac Center, they are principled, value-based, creative and innovative. What more could you want from a think tank? We can never say thank you enough to this organization. Now, an organization is only as good as the sum of its parts. Obviously this group here has a lot of good parts. They are quality, talented, smart people. That being said, and no disrespect to all those great parts, but you have to have good leadership, a great captain, and that's what Larry Reed has been these past 20 years. We all want you to know we appreciate you for that.
Larry, you would have been a great and fantastic congressman. But being here, at the Mackinac Center, you have opened up a horizon for so many people. Congressmen and state representatives and senators have benefitted from your knowledge and expertise. What you have done is gift other folks in public service with the weaponry and the ammo to go out there and wage the war.