As the remarkable life of A. Alfred Taubman was recounted in deserving detail at his funeral service last week, it was clear to any in the synagogue that his passing leaves a tremendous void in this city and this region that we are going to be hard pressed to fill.
Taubman was incredibly successful at business, of course, with a net worth in the billions of dollars. But his more lasting impact lies in the many different fields of civic involvement and philanthropy into which he poured his talents and energy. His funding of medical research, his launching of a successful statewide ballot initiative to approve stem cell research in Michigan, his steadfast support of the Detroit Institute of Arts, his backing of higher education all have left an indelible imprint.
Of great importance to Detroit was his decision, in the early 1980s, to team up with the late Max Fisher and Mayor Coleman Young to build the Riverfront Apartments. That decision was made at a time when few were willing to show that kind of support and investment in the city and few believed people would live downtown. It was a remarkable show of support for the city at a time when too many potential investors were headed for the exits.
In truth, no one person is going to be able to replace A. Alfred Taubman. But it is up to the new generation to find ways to follow his example in civic areas that go far beyond financial success.
In July 1967, as Detroit was still smoldering in the aftermath of the great civil disturbance that had rocked it to its core, a young corporate leader — Joe Hudson — was called on to take the lead of a new organization, New Detroit, that was charged with finding the root causes of that disturbance and coming up with solutions.
At the time, Hudson could have declined the invitation on the grounds that he had a department store to run or that he didn't want to ruffle feathers. But he stepped up to the challenge, followed by other leaders from the corporate, civic and grassroots community. And he persevered despite the fact that his involvement in the sensitive issue of race offended some of his customers.
Today, many of the sources looked to for leadership in 1967 are gone.
Yet the need for civic leadership is every bit as strong at a time when there is more hope being manifested for post-bankruptcy Detroit's future than we have seen in a long time.
Where will those leaders come from? Who will step forward to show the civic involvement and demonstrate concern for the fabric of this region that was manifested by A. Alfred Taubman, Joe Hudson, Dr. Arthur Johnson, Lena Bivens, Max Fisher, Judge Damon J. Keith, Marcella Bright, Henry Ford II and other titans of our past? Some of those names you will recognize. Others you may not. But each was crucial to moving Detroit forward. Each of us has a role to play.
For New Detroit, with a board of leaders from the grassroots, civic and corporate communities, urban and suburban residents and people of all races, that role is continuing to tackle the region's toughest issue — race — and creating effective strategies for improving the racial climate in the region.
There are many other areas of need that require similar attention and focus and leadership. And there are many potential leaders who we need to step forward.
We need each person reading this to step up to take a piece of the challenge that Taubman was ready and willing to accept, to look beyond the bottom line — which is no doubt important — and to get involved in the civic and community life of Detroit. Because what made Taubman a real leader was his vision and passion and commitment to change. There is no monetary value on that.
By Shirley Stancato President and CEO of New Detroit Inc.
Detroit Free Press April 26, 2015 | 1:04 a.m. EDT
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