The Innards and the Extrovert: Development at its Best

A personal reflection

By Pamela Klier-Weidner
Director of Development, JCUA

The death of Jerry Solovy (Jan. 19) had a profound effect on me. He’s the finest example of why I love philanthropy so much.

I came to know Jerry through my job as director of development at the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. He was the driving force for our Jurisprudence Social Justice Awards Dinner each year, where we present the Arthur Goldberg Award to one stellar legal social justice champion. He also served on JCUA’s Board of Directors. His history of philanthropic efforts is too long to list.

Jerry Solovy

Jerry Solovy

When I first met Jerry, as the event manager at JCUA, I was beyond intimidated. He was highly respected, downright famous in the legal community (and yes, beyond the legal community, too).
Jerry was a “big deal.” I’d done business numerous times with Fortune 100 “big deals,” but Jerry was somehow more intimidating to me. He was one-of-a-kind: dressed to the nines (and expected the same of you), totally charming and a true gentleman.

He was an absolute pleasure to visit. I came to know, and look forward to, what I’d see at every meeting at his office at Jenner & Block…Blue and gold University of Michigan EVERYTHING, a vast selection of delicious candy and photographs of Abraham, his beloved grandson with the bright red hair.

Before I joined JCUA, I’d been a public speaker for more than 18 years. I’d sat on the lap of Sumner Redstone and performed with Jay Leno and Bernadette Peters. What was so “larger than life” about Jerry? Why was I always so excited and nervous all at the same time? He was just that big, just that special, just that unique.

After a year at JCUA, I became the director of development. My meetings with Jerry were more frequent.

At one meeting, we’d discussed how in my youth, I was a dancer and had danced at Ruth Page. He told me that he was the President and Board member at the Ruth Page Foundation. (Yet another reason to love him.) A few days later, I had books about Ruth Page and everything ballet, courtesy of Jerry. He had brought me back to the art I’d worked so hard for — loved so desperately — for so many years.

As a development officer, I attend a myriad of events, especially when one of our board members is being honored. I attended the 2009 Unity Dinner, where Jerry was being honored (again). That’s when I learned that he’d represented, pro bono, the Warburton family, the adoptive parents in the “Baby Richard” case.

As someone who was adopted at birth, I was moved to a whole new level that I can hardly explain. Had I been returned to my “Birth Father,” or as I think of him, “sperm donor,” life would have been beyond horrific for me. My parents are the parents who adopted and raised me, and that is what I thought about “Baby Richard,” whose real name is Danny.

Jerry and Jenner & Block did more pro bono work than almost anyone. Jerry was philanthropic to an enormous degree. He helped us all to see, firsthand, that “people are really good at heart.”

If I ever have any doubt about the generosity of people, I will think of Jerry and how he set a nearly impossible standard to beat. Of course, as a development professional, I’ll keep trying to beat it. Jerry wouldn’t have it any other way.

More about Jerry Solovy from JCUA’s Jane Ramsey

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