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P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans

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Honoring Lawrence C. McQuade

09.03.15
Nusrat Choudhury
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When Paul and Daisy set out to create the Fellowship 17 years ago, they reached out to their long-time friend Lawrence (Larry) C. McQuade and asked him to join them in creating a one-of-a-kind institution. Larry, a lawyer by training, worked at the top of both the business and government sectors, and often at the intersection of the two.

Larry himself had significant Fellowship experience as a Rhodes Scholar and an advisor to the White House Fellows program. From 1961 to 1963, he served in the Pentagon at a time when the Berlin Wall was a major issue between Russia and the West and flew to Berlin with his boss, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Paul Nitze, to confer with German officials about how to react. From 1963 to 1969, Larry served under four secretaries of the Commerce Department, learning skills that would help him later as a chief executive and investment banker. Like many Fellows, he defied traditional professional labeling, gracefully weaving a legacy of impact, service and success in whichever institution he served and led. He was the perfect person to help Daisy and Paul create the Fellowships.  

Several years ago I had the honor of serving on the board of the Fellowship and as the chair for the Fellowship’s alumni association. As a young Fellow, I learned about leadership and judgment from Larry during these board meetings. Larry listened, asked smart questions, was confident enough in his abilities and skill to admit when he did not know an answer, and consistently demonstrated respect for his colleagues. Whether we discussed changes in policy concerning selection, diversity issues, transition planning, or financial matters, the entire board relied on Larry for guidance and gave his opinions considerable weight. Larry was a critical contributor to the board’s success as demonstrated year-after-year by the selection of outstanding Fellows and the continued growth and strengthening of the Fellowship as an institution.

I recently spoke to Larry, who officially transitioned off the board in October of 2014, about the Fellowship and its growth over the years. As always, Larry’s sparkling personality came through.  Our conversation reminded me of how fortunate we all are as Fellows to have the opportunity to learn from such extraordinary role models.

How did you first come to be introduced to Paul & Daisy and the Fellowship?

My wife and I knew Paul & Daisy as friends before they started this idea. We were very fond of them and deeply admiring of the heroism which they showed in the face of nazi barbarism. before they left the home base in Europe. They became good friends of ours and when they started the Fellowship they asked if I would participate, and I felt very honored.

Tell me about Paul & Daisy and how they came up with the idea for the Fellowship.

Paul and Daisy conquered extraordinarily difficult times and stayed true to their principles. They lived for other human beings, really. They were innovators and had the talents and wisdom to make a considerable success, and they chose to spend their money to help people develop their own capacities. The Fellowships help young people make America the opportunity for success that it was for Paul and Daisy. Even by now, their graduates are starting to be consequential to America’s growth as a governmental entity and in all the many arts and disciplines that make up a complicated society like ours.

Paul & Daisy are international in their understanding of how the world works, positive and selfless. They have a wonderful spirit, which the Fellowship did not create but which the Fellowships help grow.

Can you share some of your memories of Paul?

The most powerful memory I have of Paul is from his book. He describes that he was hiding in a cellar in a room on the ground floor. He was picked up by the Russians and found himself walking in a big long line of people who had been captured by the Russians. They were walking towards Russia, where they would be forced to work. He thought to himself “ this is not good.” While they were passing a place that offered a place to hide, he ran off and hid, and then went back to town and continued his life. He brought  bravery and good luck to his cause.  And all along the way he nearly died from holding himself to the highest standards.  No matter how bad conditions were, or how expensive it was to do something for the better interest of the world, he would do it—he was great. And he had an excellent wife to help him along!

Absolutely. Tell me about your recollections of Daisy.

My recollections of Daisy begin when she and Paul were going to school together here in New York. You can’t meet her without feeling the magnetism and excitement that she projects. She is very smart and, like Paul, a person of wonderfully high standards.

I agree. Daisy is a force and and a real role model for the Fellows.

Can you tell me a little bit about your role as a Trustee? What did the Fellowship overcome to get to where it is today with 17 classes of Fellows since it began in 1998?

It began unknown. I think we were very fortunate to hire the right person. When Paul and Daisy go after something that’s what they do. They hired the right person to pull it together, Warren Ilchman. He knew how to bring their ideas to fruition. I had lunch with him and that convinced me. He did a fantastic job because he knew the college system, he knew how to evaluate people, and worked for two people who recognized how his capabilities matched up with what the Fellowship needed. Warren was powerful, useful and necessary in getting the Fellowships the start that it needed.

Every year, the community of immigrants and their children would get to know the Fellowships  a little bit better. We began to get stature. But even at the beginning we had high quality choices for Fellows.

Is there any category of Fellow that has really stood out to you?

There is one category, which is music. That’s one category where if you’re really good, you don’t need twenty years of experience to show off!

One thing our community is excited about is the confirmation of our friend Vivek Murthy as the US Surgeon General of the United States.

That’s what should happen. These are fantastic people and as the world goes on they are able to have full careers. That’s what should happen and what does happen. I just get dazzled by all of the Fellows making their individual marks of excellence on this country and the world!

What have you found most fun about working with the Fellowship?

Being with the Fellows! Is there something better?

I don’t think so. But this is your interview!

Well, that’s my answer. (chuckles)

Where do you hope the Fellowship goes now that you’re transitioning off?

I do not have a confident answer. The inevitable challenge is to adapt as the world changes yet to maintain the elements that have guided it to success so far.

What advice would you give the future leadership?

Stick to the principles that the founders established and observed, yet be open to any changes which reinforce these high standards.

Tell me about your career.

I spent my life as a lawyer and a businessman. I did work in the US government for eight years, the most exhilarating time of my life.

As someone who has had a long and distinguished career spanning the public and private sector, what advice do you have for Fellows as they move on with their careers?

Be true to yourself and to the kind of principles which Paul and Daisy Soros epitomize.

That’s very good advice, I will say.

I think the overwhelmingly important thing is that if you have talent and energy and you have principles, which Paul had and Daisy has, and which are always at the core of what they did, you will always be a success by my standard, whether or not you make a lot of money or run a company.

This has been wonderful. I will say, just personally, being at board meetings with you for two years was an absolute joy. You always brought wisdom, knowledge, experience and wise counsel to Paul and Daisy. It was a pleasure learning from you as a junior member of the team. Thank you for your commitment to the Fellowship, the Fellows, and to our hopes and dreams.

It was an honor. It’s a great enterprise and I hope it goes forward with continuing success!

Interview by Nusrat Choudhury (2004 Fellow), ACLU Racial Justice Program staff attorney.