October 5, 2007
Memorial for Penn Emeritus President Martin Meyerson
Today, we gather at the University of Pennsylvania to celebrate a life lived to the fullest --- and so beautifully to scale.
Martin Meyerson never sought stardom or went in for fanfare, which makes it all the more remarkable that the man we knew and loved was not merely a star, but a supernova, a world-renowned urban planner, an eminent public intellectual, and a courageous academic leader of enormous breadth of learning, scope of understanding, and depth of living. What’s more, Martin’s star continues to rise in the firmament of Penn and higher education. And Martin’s legion of admirers keeps growing.
This afternoon, you will hear from a distinguished cross section of Martin’s fan base, his family, his friends and colleagues, his protégés.
The picture that together we will paint is of a truly great man whose heart, soul, and mind improved the lives of a vast cross-section of humanity through his distinguished work on urban, regional, national, and international planning and development, a man who wisely and courageously led academic institutions, none more steadily and remarkably than this University, which is proud to have become not only Martin’s home but also his majestic work in progress, and a man who simultaneously was a loyal and beloved husband, father, grandfather, friend, and colleague.
I speak to you this afternoon not only as President of the University that Martin served so nobly and loved so dearly, but also as someone who counts herself so very fortunate to have been warmly embraced by Martin from the moment we first met. I think you will all recognize the way that Martin welcomed me to Penn because it so perfectly expresses his extraordinary character.
I asked Martin to share with me what he knew about Penn that I would not find in Penn histories, handbooks, Almanacs, Gazettes, and Daily Pennsylvanian articles. Martin not only added exponentially to my storehouse of completely unprintable knowledge, he did so with his inimitable combination of intense intellectual passion, acute moral sensibility, and an ever sparkling smile and twinkle in his eye, which faded not an iota to the end.
Martin exuded confidence and pride in what he had helped Penn become, but he was not in the least bit nostalgic for the past, because he loved living in the present and he was a master at plotting a better future. He enjoyed intricate story-telling not because he thought the past superior to—or even more interesting than—the present, but rather because he knew how much wiser we can be in planning for tomorrow once we understood what went before.
Martin was what I like to call a pragmatic idealist. He took great pride in befriending men and women who shared his passion for putting the life of the mind into the service of the academy, their communities, and ultimately all of humanity.
As much as we admire Martin’s brilliance in urban planning, as much as we view ourselves as the beneficiaries of his wise leadership through some very tough times in higher education, and as much as we applaud his genius in charting a bold direction for the University of Pennsylvania, we also remember him as a beloved colleague, mentor, and friend who gave so much of himself not only to our institution but also to each of us as individuals. Martin, for all of these reasons—and more—we miss you dearly.
Your footprints are all over the University of Pennsylvania.
Some are obvious – such as the transformation of our old college green into beautiful Blanche Levy Park, and the special library collections that you and Margy endowed.
Others are less evident to the eye but very relevant to our lives at Penn.
With stunning foresight, Martin articulated a vision of “One University,” in which all twelve of our schools would collaborate to produce teaching and research that invigorated undergraduate education. Martin created our School of Arts and Sciences. Martin made diversity in admissions and the advancement of women and minorities in the faculty ranks top priorities. Martin was also a talent scout, indeed a great maven. He was ahead of his time for mentoring the best and the brightest regardless of their race, ethnicity, or gender. Indeed Martin was a mentor of so many, including many assembled here today, before the term became au courante. Martin thereby positioned Penn to be a greater force for both equity and excellence.
At the same time as Martin accomplished so much for Penn, he displayed an astonishing ability to play a very difficult hand. He inherited a University struggling to manage disjointed growth, and he applied his ecological principles to recover Penn’s identity.
He also summoned the University community to turn its attention to the challenges of West Philadelphia at a time when town-gown relations were hostile, indeed by many accounts toxic.
And we must not forget the dreadful financial hand that Martin was dealt in the early 1970s in the form of a stagnating national economy and a $900,000 University deficit -- in 1970 dollars! Yet, under Martin’s leadership, with the talented team he assembled, Penn beat all the odds to grow in stature and impact.
Before I came to Penn, the more I learned about Martin, the more I admired him. After I arrived at Penn, the more I learned from Martin, the more I loved him. As a new president, how could I not love Martin —and his wonderful wife Margy—who opened their hearts … and minds … and home to me?
We thank and admire you, Margy, for being such an inspiring, lifelong partner to Martin, and such a mutual friend to so many of us here today. Every kindness that you and Martin extended to us profoundly underscored Martin’s and your loving devotion. You had a phenomenal partnership, and we have been among its many beneficiaries.
So I stand before you today to say simply that Martin Myerson was, until his dying day, a truly great man who poured his energies into making Penn in particular and the academy in general a far, far greater force for good in the world than he found it.
I shall miss Martin’s counsel, his command of Penn history, his presence at this University, our community, and our world.
I also will continue to be inspired by the edifying conversations we had, the extraordinary example he set, the enormous legacy he left—and above all by the beautifully humane life that Martin led to the fullest, and of course—befitting a great urban planner—precisely to scale. Martin, we shall carry on your legacy, all the while remaining your biggest fans.