When Evie Pozez died last month, I had the sense that this was another major milestone in the passing of what Tom Brokaw coined “The Greatest Generation.”
Evie, who was dynamic in her own right, was, in the context of our Jewish community, “joined at the hip” with her beloved husband, Shaol, and his cousin Louis, both of blessed memory, and Ruthann, Louis’s wife, in the way they graced us with their extraordinary heart and generosity. Luckily, Ruthann still blesses us with her presence, which is every bit as potent as ever. Nonetheless, with Evie’s passing, I began to think about what it was that was so remarkable about her and her “colleagues-in-arms” in the work of building our Jewish community, which, as has been noted on many occasions, might look very different had the Pozez clan not made Tucson their home in the mid-1980s.
This reflection also comes as a question and a challenge to the generations that follow. What can we learn from these remarkable leaders and their role in building our Jewish community? Can we still aspire to their style of philanthropic leadership and volunteerism?
Let me begin with what I observed:
1. They loved to say “yes.” These days, when skepticism and a quick “no I can’t” seem too often to be the first response, these remarkable people wanted to say “yes.” Their love for our Jewish community both locally and globally, along with their deeply ingrained devotion to making the world a better place, made their first instinct to say, “Yes, we will help.”
2. They were understated but always in the lead. I didn’t have the privilege of knowing them in their early days in Topeka, when their leadership might have looked different, but here, whether or not they were out front “leading the cause,” they were always leaders in the way they advocated for our community. While they may have been understated in their manner of communication, they were powerful in their deeds.
3. Their support was steadfast. There was no sense of “cause du jour” … for them support for the Jewish community was lifelong; there were no timeouts.
4. Their focus was always on unity and growth. A wise person once observed that it takes a long time to create a strong organization, but a short time to tear it down. This was something they clearly knew— and so while they were unafraid of change, they readily embraced opportunities to build and shied away from actions that might pull us apart.
5. They allied with their partners to get the job done. I always remember Louis pulling me aside after Federation executive committee meetings at which a need emerged. He’d tell me, “Let me talk to Shaol and I’ll get back to you.” The return call was virtually always a commitment, on behalf of both of them, to help us accomplish our goals. They also reached out to other philanthropic families in our community to ally with them for the greater good — even though none have identical priorities. The result of this collaboration can be seen in the creation of our beautiful campus
housing the Jewish Community Center and Tucson Hebrew Academy, as well as through their support for the Federation campaign and numerous other philanthropic ventures on behalf of our Jewish community.
6. What they did, they did with joy and a sense of appreciation. Just as breathtaking as their philanthropic generosity was their generosity of spirit. They embraced this work of building Jewish community with smiles, love, and appreciation for all those around them engaged in our sacred collective mission to create a better Jewish community and a better world.
Yes, I know the world has changed. Donors’ interests are changing; unifying around a shared vision doesn’t come as easily as it did in the days when Israel was young and the Free Soviet Jewry movement was at its peak. But I would like to think that we can all continue to be inspired by Evie and her cohorts’ example of devoted and passionate leadership, a leadership style that has kept us strong, connected and successful.
Stuart Mellan is president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona.