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Austin Kiplinger, David Skorton: Two Civic Giants Going And Coming

Tuesday, December 15, 2015 15:05
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(Before It's News)

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.

Austin KiplingerAmong attendees Dec. 11 was Dr. David J. Skorton, the incoming secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and previously Cornell University’s president from 2006 until earlier this year.

Skorton’s eloquent speech earlier in the week outlining his vision for the world’s largest museum and Kiplinger’s 55 years on Cornell’s board symbolically mark a succession in American civic life worth assessing in depth.

Kiplinger and Skorton are two of the nation’s great civic leaders of recent times. They have embodied a passion for learning, culture, and a just society. They advanced those qualities also by fostering (and many times founding) enduring institutions of the kind necessary throughout the country 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 portayals should be part of the picture also.

David Skorton Cornell PhotoKiplinger’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. It is located in Ithaca, a smallish city in upstate 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. The 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 for the most part 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 controversial and best-selling author.

What follows is not simply a description of their careers but an attempt to draw from them tools for problem-solving during the troubled times the nation and world face these days.


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