The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Dinner in Honor of Ken Herr

William O. Baker

October 9, 1992

University Club, New York City

Founders of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and its predecessors were especially dedicated to the humanities, their arts and literature. But in addition to cultivating this mission in its major meanings they also believed in humanism. This appeared personally in the staffing and trusteeship of Avalon and Old Dominion. When these were combined and Ailse Mellon Bruce and Paul Mellon had added great resources in formation of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, this personalism was sustained. it was agreed that qualities of character, congeniality, loyalty and humanism of the resulting staff and its administration would hold ever to these intimate and trusting principles.

So we are celebrating this evening the service of a friend and colleague who has exercised so naturally this range of kind and capable collaboration. In doing so, Ken Herr has coped with and enhanced some basic issues of Foundation operations. For instance, we all know that rejection, deferral, denial, polite refusal, and confrontation are essential in genuine philanthropy, and I assert that those gathered here are unsurpassed in humane recourse to this. But not all may realize that Ken has dealt with saying “no,” “definitely no,” on a different and larger dimension. This involves one of the most persuasive, insistent, and aggressive, as well as highly intelligent and “street smart” segments of our society. These are the inhabitants of Wall Street and its suburbs, such as San Francisco, Denver, Chicago, and Dallas. Now these investment advisors are not applying for a modest grant to publish and anthology of the ethics of Phoenician money changers. Rather, they propose to our Treasurer that they take over the entire portfolio of The Andrew Mellon Foundation. They propose in the most convincing ways that they will invest and manage everything we have, and Ken has applied decisive and courteous rejections. And these are done in ways that have preserved cordiality, but have not fostered illusion, right in the midst of having to sustain in the most numerical and tangible forms the obligations of his office, that demand him to say “no!.” He had to be an expert “nay-sayer” to some of the most persuasive proponents on this planet. And by the way, he also informs internally those of us who might have wished more funds for this or that than the treasury contained. Likewise, he has said “no” it most civil terms to the coal miners who would level a mountain here and there in West Virginia. He can say “no” in the most compelling ways to Internal Revenue Service agents who would sometimes reach far beyond their authorized and generally practiced rules.

Now these are only samples, but they are compelling because they are so much outweighed by Ken Herr's collaborative, creative, congenial capability of saying “yes.” In that productive and affirmative scoring of use of the treasure our Founders entrusted to us, Ken has exercised in every turn the warm, steady and loyal features of Mellon Foundation personnel.

There are hosts of in-house examples of doing his things on behalf of us all with skill and integrity. Notable cases include his working with the Finance Committee in its varied evolution and responsibilities as the Foundation was shaped. This early decade embodied the strategic decision related to the specialized holdings of our gracious donors. This was to use the Finance Committee as an investment operating group aided by one advisory and market brokerage firm, State Street. Accordingly, finance management was often a daily activity in which diligent trustees, including Stoddard Stevens his successor Jack Stevenson, Bill Morton, and Arjay Miller ran the course against galloping inflation and the abiding and inspiring principle that a steadily increasing budget of grants for the mission of the Foundation was a better investment than I think we could have done by cutting back payout. Welcome, never intrusive, judgment and fiscal wisdom were injected into this activity by consistent attendance at meetings of the Committee by Paul Mellon and, later, steady insightful counsel by a noted economic historian named Jack Sawyer.

The point is that along with the superb records of our doings described by Kellum Smith our Treasurer, Ken Herr, had forever current, reliable, careful, patient data at hand, as we coped with the application and redistribution of the marvelous munificence of the Mellon family. Not until January of 1981 did we turn toward the role of other advisors - three at first. And perhaps it was our initial desperation or just luck that in the first two years in which they then functioned (which were of course, difficult, economic times) the large residual “general principle” which the Finance Committee kept under its direct programming outpaced the results of the professionals. Nevertheless, as we moved further during the mid-1980's and wisely into the preliminary diversification looking toward the present distinguished financial capabilities, Ken Herr swung with the times and always treated the often daily doings of the Committee members with care and courtesy. There was everlasting confidence in the numbers and the status of the Foundation's holdings.

What satisfaction and joy Ken Herr must feel, as he rounds out his tenure and sees the post passed to Treasuress Scott (a designation appearing but said to be rare in English as early as the Middle Ages) augmenting the present superb resources and record of the Chief Financial Officer, Dennis Sullivan. His brilliant and sophisticated Finance Committee, chaired by Chuck Exeley and the unsurpassed Administration of the Foundation overall.

Ken never languished in keeping up with the geographic, geologic and socio-economic changes in the world. His numerous journeys with Mrs. Herr included such matters as surveys of the Soviet Union just before its demise, and a finding transmitted to me on the ninth of February, 1981 following a journey into Latin and South America that he “could get along without any more Mexican food” and many memorable surveys of the Foundation's coal properties in West Virginia. There, for instance in December of 1977, he rationalized and analyzed a set of Gates' Engineering and other programs to the continuing benefit of the net income, ecology, and environmental instincts of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

These are but small and scattered samples of the ways in which Ken Herr has exercised these basic principles of what working in the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation does and can mean. His is a remarkable career of participation, loyalty and integrity, along with complex and extensive outside representation of the mission bestowed upon us all through historic family generosity.