As the Texas Rangers were kicking off the last season at Globe Life Park against Chicago Cubs on Thursday, March 28, the SMU campus was filling with Lexuses, Mercedes and all types of high brows. It’s too bad the Rangers didn’t have Nancy Strauss Halbreich batting. In addition to being SMU’s 2019 J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Awardee, she literally proved to be the MVP at the annual award luncheon that day benefiting the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility.
Despite the tented VIP reception on the terrace adjoining the ballroom, the bright sunshine and gusts of winds required some guests to don their tinted cheaters and adopt a slightly wind-blown look.
Inside the Martha Proctor Mack Grand Ballroom, awardee Nancy was gently guiding family friend Louise Eiseman to her place. As soon as Louise was in place, Nancy joined Luncheon Chair/longtime friend Caren Prothro for a quick photo. No sooner had the pix been taken than Nancy was surrounded by well-wishers including Nelda Cain Pickens, Margot Perot, Liza Lee, Regen Horchow Fearon, Kelli and Jerry Ford, Laurie and Dr. Phil Evans, Francie Moody-Dahlberg, Jeanne Cox, Nancy Dedman, Gail Turner, Ralph Babb, Carole and John Ridings Lee and David Krause. MIA was Carol Seay, who had been Nancy’s partner in raising funds for Parkland’s new breast cancer center. Seems Carol had been slated to be on an adventure in Big Bend ages before the Maguire.
Spying the chaps with the ear pieces and the serious expressions, it was obvious to this crowd that former first lady Laura Bush would make an appearance. True to form, no sooner had former SMU-er Laura arrived at her front row table place than one gray-haired guest held her hostage in a conversation. When Gene Jones passed by, Laura greeted Jones only to have the gray-haired gal nearly body slam Gene. But the agile Gene made a nice recovery directing her attention to Kelli and then on to Nancy’s husband/media executive Jeremy Halbreich.
It wasn’t until SMU VP for Development and External Affairs Brad Cheves called the program to order that Laura’s new gray-haired BFF abandoned the former first lady and headed to her place next to Dallas Museum of Art Director Agustin Arteaga.
As the program progressed with various dignitaries and SMU supporters being acknowledged, 2018 Jonsson Ethics Awardee Bobby Lyle recognized past recipients in the audience (Mike Boone, Lyda Hill, Walt Humann, Caren, Bill Solomon, Ron Steinhart and Gail Thomas). That was when the first “oops” of the day happened. As he rolled out the names, one was missing. The MIA awardee looked a bit bewildered. Perhaps he had only imagined receiving the award in 2016.
As the light dimmed for a video, a minion was dispatched to notify Brad, who was still on the stage, of the situation. When the lights came up, Brad had evidently notified Bobby of the slip resulting in Bobby’s apologizing for not recognizing a past recipient especially since they had talked for ten minutes during the VIP reception — Terry Flowers, who stood to applause.
Following the meal, SMU President R. Gerald Turner briefly told the crowd that Nancy, who has coordinated so many award events for others, would probably agree that it “is better to organize these things than to receive them.” Despite her not attending SMU as an undergraduate, Turner said when someone has been as heavily involved with the various SMU programs as Nancy, “We just adopt you.”
He was followed by an 11-minute talk by Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility Director Rita Kirk about the Award and the Center.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings next took his place on the stage to introduce a video tribute to Nancy. During his brief remarks, he pointed out how the Center was serving as a “lighthouse helping us through these rocky shores of animosity and opinionated hubris that we all live in.” Then he added some levity by saying that despite his personal friendship with Nancy, he was there as the mayor of Dallas. “I understand as the mayor of Dallas that the name ‘Strauss’ has some heritage in it. The legacy of Mayor Annette Strauss has loomed large over me over these last eight years. In fact [former Dallas mayor] Ron Kirk and I always argue who is the third best mayor. So, he always introduces me as the fourth best mayor.” In concluding, he eloquently hoped that his offspring would one day have “the passion for public service that Nancy has clearly been impacted and lived out through her mother and her father (the late Ted Strauss). Nancy embodies this notion of moral leadership and public virtue that this award is all about and she is closely affiliated with some of the most important organizations in the city and causes that are so important for us to be the city that we want to be in the coming decades” including the Dallas Museum of Art, SMU, the Parkland Foundation, the Southwestern Medical Center Foundation, The Hockaday School, and the AT&T Performing Arts Center. He added that she’s been “an incredible fundraiser. Run away from her if you see her.”
That’s when the second and final “oops” of the day took place in a video about Nancy. But it was rather perfectly timed. After accolades by Nancy’s sister Janie McGarr, Caren, Bobby and Turner, Don Glendenning said how Nancy was like Mother Teresa in Chanel. Just as Lyle reappeared on the two screens saying, “And she said, ‘Dear Bobby, I was just …’” The video stopped leaving all in the dark. The awkwardness of the silence and black screens was saved when Turner said, “Some of the best comments were yet to come.” From her table, Nancy was heard to say, “We can stop with Mother Teresa.”
Not waiting for the video to return, Turner moved on, inviting Nancy to the stage to receive the award. As she made her way to the stage, the room filled with guests gave her a standing ovation, including award namesake Cary Maguire, who rose from his wheelchair with the help of Rawlings.
In accepting the award, Nancy proved to be her mother’s daughter, mixing humor and advice.
- “I don’t know how I’m going to repay you (the people in the video). I’m sure my sweet sister has thought of a few ways and they involve my MasterCard.”
- “Do you remember those cartoons when you were little and they asked the question, “What’s wrong with this picture?” And they would say, “Pick out the toothbrush in the tree.” I feel like the toothbrush in the tree now that my name has been added to the list of past recipients.”
- “We may not have legacies as great and large as Erik Jonsson’s, but I think there are three things that we can do to lead more ethical lives.
- “First of all, be honest. Just tell the truth. Now, my mother was an extraordinary woman. And as you might imagine over the years, she gave me lots of advice, both solicited and unsolicited. I’d forgotten most of it, but one thing that I remember as clearly as it happened yesterday. We were seated at the dinner table one evening. I was six or seven years old and I was telling some wild tale. Annie let me finish my story and then she looked at me across the table and shook her finger and said, ‘Nanny, you are not smart enough to lie. Never forget that. You are not smart enough to lie.’ And so, I tell the truth not because of some strong moral fiber. It’s simply that I am not smart enough to lie. So, over the years I’ve tried to decide is there any situation in any occasion that justifies telling a lie and I’ve only come up with one — If you’re at a party and a woman asks you if the dress she’s wearing makes her look fat, you always say, ‘No.’”
- “Second, be unselfish. This world is composed mainly of other people, so try to think about the other fellow. Put yourself in his shoes. See what you can do to lighten his load a bit. I was so lucky to have had a best friend and mentor in Ruth Altshuler. Ruth was the most under-oriented person I’ve ever known and I learned so much from her not just from listening to what she said, but from watching her as she went about her daily life. One day we were talking on the phone and she very abruptly interrupted the great story I’m sure I was telling and she said, ‘I’ve got to go. I see my postman and I haven’t done my good deed for someone today. I’m going to take him a Coke.’ Now we all can’t be Ruth Altshuler, but we can all take the postman a Coke.
- “Finally, be kind. I think kindness is everything in life and we all have the power to be kind. It’s so easy and it costs nothing. I’ve never met anyone, no matter how exalted his stature who didn’t appreciate a compliment. So, tell the checker at Tom Thumb that you like her fingernail polish. Let your friend know that you believe in him and you’re proud. If you point out the good in somebody, you will feel it, too. People will never remember what you said. They will never remember what you did. But they will always remember how you made them feel.
- “So, maybe we won’t have legacies as large as Erik Jonsson, but maybe a legacy isn’t some great, grand thing after all. Maybe it’s what we do every day. The little things that we’ll be held accountable for when we take that last breath. So, let’s try to be honest and unselfish and kind and maybe… just maybe that will be enough.”
With that the room once again was the scene of a standing ovation for the day’s lesson in graciousness.
Check out MySweetCharity Photo Gallery for more photos of the event and people.