(Editor's note: The following are the edited remarks of President Emeritus Lawrence W. Reed given at the Mackinac Center's 20th anniversary gala held Nov. 11, 2008, in East Lansing, Mich.)
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, and good evening. I'm tempted to say that seeing so many good friends and old friends gathered here this evening so moves me as to leave me speechless. But I don't think my successor, Joe Lehman, would appreciate it if I just said that and sat down. So I will speak!
I'm blessed with the important responsibility tonight of recognizing some very special people. We like to say at the Mackinac Center that it's ideas that motivate us and they certainly do - passionately! But it's people to whom we owe boundless gratitude because ideas can go nowhere without them. The members of our wonderful, dedicated staff who work so long and hard on your behalf are the first to acknowledge we couldn't have done what we have without hundreds, indeed thousands, of others who have played a role in our growth. Needless to say, I can't name every person but on behalf of the staff, please allow me to recognize the following, some by group and some individually by name:
Advisors and Scholars. From around the state of Michigan come members of our board of advisors and board of scholars. Their advice and wisdom leave an ongoing imprint on the Center's work. Many of them are here tonight and I ask them to stand briefly to accept our thanks.
Keystone Awardees. These are people who have faithfully given of their financial resources for at least 15 of our 20 years. Those who are with us tonight are being given a little red box at their table with a symbol of our appreciation inside. Will each of you please stand and accept our thanks.
Board of Directors. Wow! When I visit other think tanks and organizations around the country and am asked about the reasons for the Mackinac Center's success, at the top of the list is a fantastic board of directors. I wish I had time to regale you with details. The Center's directors constitute, in my opinion, the best collection of the finest people any board could have. I want to recognize them and ask that they stand as I call them by name, and that the audience hold their applause until I've named them all, in alphabetical order: Joe Fitzsimmons, Paul Gadola, Dick Haworth, Kent Herrick, Phil Jenkins, Joe Lehman, Ed Levy, Rod Lockwood, Joe Maguire, Richard McLellan, Joe Olson, Jim Rodney and Linda Rodney.
It is my very sad duty tonight to acknowledge a board member who passed away only this past Saturday, John Riecker of Midland. Several years ago we christened the board room in the Mackinac headquarters the "John and Margaret Ann Riecker Board Room" in honor of their longstanding support. Please include John's widow, Ranny, and the Riecker family in your prayers. We will miss John greatly.
And now I would like to recognize an individual who has been a close and valued ally on many issues over the years. His decades of service as president of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce were exceptional for their commitment to free enterprise principles. Many of you know him as the perfect gentleman who maintains his dignity in the toughest of battles. He recently retired from his Chamber post, but remains active on behalf of all the right causes. May I ask that Jim Barrett please come to the podium.
Jim, it is my honor to present to you this award which reads as follows:
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy
Proudly confers upon
James "Jim" Barrett
The Thomas Jefferson Award for Distinguished Service to the Citizens of Michigan
His exceptional commitment to protecting taxpayers, fostering enterprise, and improving the quality of life in Michigan
November 11, 2008
East Lansing, Michigan
The highest honor the Mackinac Center bestows is the Champion of Freedom Award, given to those whose generosity in time, wisdom and resources have greatly assisted more than just the work of the Mackinac Center, but that of like-minded organizations all over the country as well. Past recipients are Orville and Ruth Merillat of Adrian, Pete and Ruthie Peters of Boston, Jim Rodney of Birmingham, Joe Olson of Howell and Richard McLellan of Lansing. The individual on whom we bestow this honor tonight would more than qualify even if he hadn't given us the extra blessing of a son who serves on our board of directors. May I ask that Bruce Maguire please come to the podium.
Bruce, it is my distinct honor to present to you this award, which reads as follows:
Champion of Freedom
Bruce J. Maguire
This award is presented in recognition and celebration of a life devoted to enterprise, sturdy character and the battle of ideas.
One of the earliest members of the board of directors of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Bruce Maguire committed his business, legal and financial acumen - along with his uncompromising belief in the power of personal and economic liberty - to help build the Center at a critical time in its history. In all his dealings, attest all who know him, honesty is his only policy.
The Maguire family's three businesses - Wolverine Development, Spartan Oil and Bay Petroleum Corporations - span three generations since their inception in 1924. Under Bruce's direction, none of these enterprises ever sought or received special treatment from any level of government. No subsidies, incentives or tax abatements. In 1956, he developed the first McDonald's restaurant in Michigan and five of the first McDonald's anywhere. His close association with legendary entrepreneur Ray Kroc stoked his fervent support of private enterprise and free markets.
In addition to his generous financial contributions to free market economic education, sound policy research and private property rights, Bruce is a tireless promoter of the Mackinac Center's work to men and women of influence throughout the nation.
This award is gratefully presented by the board of directors of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy on this,
the 11th day of November, 2008.
Finally, I have some personal thoughts to share with you. There's so much I could say that I feel like a mosquito in a nudist camp. I know what I want to do but I hardly know where to begin. And I need to do it all in just a few minutes so we can get on with the program!
As you know, on Sept. 1 I assumed a new role as president emeritus of the Mackinac Center and full-time duties as president of the Foundation for Economic Education. Though my residence remains in Midland, FEE is headquartered in Irvington, New York, and I maintain offices both there and in the Mackinac building in Midland. The decision to make a leadership transition has its roots years ago, when I began thinking about what a successful succession in the future might look like.
In 2003, when we lost our esteemed colleague, Joe Overton, in a tragic accident, I resolved to get serious about preparing for succession. Oh, how I wish Joe was with us tonight! I know he would be proud of what we've done.
It was clear to me that leadership succession can either be something you're surprised by or prepared for. A good leader should plan. He shouldn't wait until he has to be carried out. He should groom a farm team of possible leaders. He should go out at the top of his game. And he should hand over an organization at the top of its game. In Joe Lehman we have a superb new leader, well-prepared. He has a sterling reputation throughout the country.
I have time only to tell you about the one thing among many that I am most proud of in 20 years at the helm of the Mackinac Center. And that is this: This organization's principles are the same today as they were 20 years go. No drift, no corners cut, no waffles, no ifs, ands or buts. How many parties or politicians can you say that about? Under the leadership of Joe Lehman and this fine board of directors and staff, this will not change. For those of you who might be feeling a little down after last week's election, I want to close with a few paragraphs from an e-mail I sent around last Wednesday morning:
This is NOT the time to abandon time-honored principles. I can't speak for others but some day I want to go to my reward and be able to look back and say I never gave up. I never became part of the problem I tried to solve. I never gave the other side the luxury of winning anything without a fight. I never missed an opportunity to do my best for what I believed in, and it never mattered what the odds or the obstacles were.
Let's remember that we stand on the shoulders of heroes who came before us and who persevered through far darker times. I think of the brave men and women behind the Iron Curtain who resisted the greatest tyranny of the modern age, and won. I think of those like Hayek and Mises who kept the flame of liberty flickering in the 1930s and 1940s when the whole world must have seemed mad for statism in one form or another. I think of the giants like William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson who fought to end slavery and literally changed the conscience and character of a nation in the face of the most daunting of disadvantages. I think of the patriots who shed their blood for American liberty and suffered through unspeakable hardships as they took on the world's most powerful nation in 1776. And I think of the Scots who, 456 years before the Declaration of Independence, put their lives on the line to repel English invaders with these stirring words: "It is not for honor or glory or wealth that we fight, but for freedom alone, which no good man gives up except with his life."
As I thought about what some of those great men and women faced, the obstacles before us today seemed rather puny. I'm ashamed that for a moment a week ago, I let a little election get me down.
If you want my advice, we should not squander a second feeling bad for ourselves. This is a moment when our true character, the stuff we're really made of, will show itself. If we retreat, that would tell me we were never really worthy of the battle in the first place. But if we resolve to let these tough times build character, teach us to be better and smarter at what we do, and rally our dispirited friends to new levels of dedication, we will look back on this occasion some day with pride at how we handled it.
Use this time to think about how you can do more for liberty and do it better, reaching larger audiences in ways that turn lights on in people's minds. Support others who are working full-time on liberty's behalf. INspire, don't EXpire!
Thank you all for what you do for liberty and for the Mackinac Center. Don't stop giving. Give our new president a vote of confidence. Stand fast for the right ideas. And never, ever, give up!
Lawrence W. Reed is president of the Foundation for Economic Education and president emeritus of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.