For the fortunate, there will be an occasion when their family, friends and associates will out her/him for being nerdy, telling the worst jokes — and being a true blessing. That occasion for Peter Brodsky took place at the J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award Luncheon on Tuesday, March 21, in the Dallas Arts District Mansion ballroom.
As Peter, his wife Lael Brodsky, daughter Katie Brodsky, son Luke Brodsky and Peter’s parents Stacey and David Brodsky joined Gail Turner, Ralph Babb, Lottye Brodsky-Lyle, Don Glendenning, Tracey Nash-Huntley, Jack Vaughn, Grant Moise, Christy Coltrin and Brad Oldham, Muffin Lemak, Janie McGarr, Frank Mihalopoulos, Ken Hersh, Regen Horchow, Kern Wildenthal, Linda Custard, Linda and Mitch Hart and past awardees (David Brown, Nancy Halbreich, Lyda Hill, Bobby Lyle, Caren Prothro, Michael Sorrell and Ron Steinhart) at the reception for SMU’s Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility fundraiser, Peter seemed a little embarrassed at all the fanfare.
And that feeling only grew as the program got underway right on time in the ballroom with SMU VP of Development and External Affairs Brad Cheves and SMU Trustee/Ethics Center Board Chair Bobby Lyle on stage setting the mood of the day.
While Brad officially welcomed guests and pointed out former awardees, benefactors, the family of the late Cary Maguire, SMU leadership and presenting sponsors Comerica, Nancy Ann and Ray Hunt and Maguire Oil Company, Bobby praised the center’s board, acknowledged the past recipients, thanked Luncheon Co-Chairs Ashlee and Chris Kleinert and host committee and announced that longtime Ethics Center Associate Director Candy Crespo was leaving the Center to join Children’s Medical Center Foundation, where she will work with Foundation President Brent Christopher, “who was my friend.”
Then Bobby Lyle introduced Rabbi David Stern recalling when David did a TEDx Talk in 2010 at the Wyly. Just as he was concluding his talk a cello solemnly played in the background as the theater’s window shades raised to the sight of a flock of white doves fluttering skyward.
David, looking a bit embarrassed, took his place at the podium telling Bobby that he had checked on dove rentals for the day. After the laughter died down, David said that in looking at the award’s website the expression “public virtue” jumped out at him. In mulling over word association with words starting with a “v” to describe contemporary society, he said words starting with “v” came to his mind like “vitriol, vehemence and vulgarity before I ever got to virtue. And that is why today is so important; and that is why the Maguire Center is so important; and that is why this Mayor Erik Jonsson Leadership Award is so important, because it honors what may not be common but is invaluable and it is moral leadership in our society.”
Following lunch and a video about the center, SMU President Gerald Turner, Ethic Center’s William F. May Endowed Director Rita Kirk and Matrice Ellis-Kirk took their places on the stage.
Gerald led off by saying that SMU students are “encouraged to think big and do good and that’s exactly what Peter does.” To explain how the Center is an integral part of preparing students after graduation, he introduced Rita, who told how luncheon proceeds will support the Center’s research and development of ethical education throughout SMU. She added that while parents will ask their children, “What do you want to be?” the Center has its students consider, “What kind of life do you want to live?”
A video was shown featuring Peter’s family and friends like Willis Johnson, Regen Horchow, former Mayor Mike Rawlings and Michael Sorrell, who generously revealed the real Peter Brodsky,
- On Sundays he would make pottery with Katie while Lael and Luke watched football;
- “He tells some of the worst jokes in the world;”
- “Incredible humanity and emotion and sensitivity that you get from this nerd.”
- “Once he saw where the holes were — loose dogs, homelessness, retail opportunity — Peter has started to fill each one of those slots.”
- “He says, ‘What I want for my family is what I want for this community.'”
- He learned that at Paul Quinn people were actually afraid to walk in the area because “they were scared of being attacked by dogs. Nobody seemed to give a damn. No one seemed to do anything about it until Peter fixed it.”
- In tackling the problem of under-performing schools in Pleasant Grove, he felt that there should be options. As a result there are KIPP schools, Cristo Rey and DISD. “But before Peter there were no options.”
- “He’s happier now giving back to the community.”
Matrice gave a heartfelt introduction of her friend, saying that one of his virtues is that he is curious and “how transformation begins when we get curious. Change can only happen when we recognize that things can in fact be different.”
She admitted that she had run her script by her husband, Ron Kirk, who said in typical Ron fashion, “Oh, my God, that’s Ted Lasso.” Matrice explained that Ron was referring to the Lasso character’s quoting Walt Whitman’s ‘be curious not judgmental’ in an episode where he “sandbags the cruel soccer team owner in a game of darts.”
Peter in accepting his award looked overwhelmed and thanked all those who had appeared in the video, noting that Lael had a couple of signs on her desk — “Intellectual bad ass” and “Behind every successful man is a woman rolling her eyes.”
Peter started off saying that luck played into his place on this day. It seemed that while he was a 23-year-old banking analyst in a New York investment firm, he was “having a terrible experience working mostly for a guy whose nickname was ‘The Weasel.’” One day a nearby associate Ken Gonzalez had his fill for the day and left the office to go to the movies. In missing Kevin, his boss asked Peter to print some graphics which in that day and age required a bit of doing. But Peter came through, so much so that he ended up working for her the rest of the time he was there. She in turn suggested that he interview for a promotion. He did and was rewarded with a position in Dallas in July 1996, thinking he would only be here a couple of years. However, thanks to Sally Horchow‘s introducing him to Lael and getting engaged six months later, plus a ten-year association with Tom Hicks, Peter stuck around North Texas.
“It was all because Ken Gonzalez went to the movie that day.”
Still another fortuitous circumstance came during his being part of Leadership Dallas when, on a bus tour of south Dallas, Peter came to learn that not all of Dallas lived like his family.
He asked then-Mayor Mike Rawlings for an assignment on a program that others might not want. It was the Dallas Animal Services that had suffered from a stray dog problem. As 2022 Jonsson Awardee/Paul Quinn College President Michael Sorrell recalled, “Imagine not feeling safe enough to walk in your neighborhood.”
Peter’s mantra of “asking to learn” led to his awareness of the lackings in South Dallas. At that time Pleasant Grove’s schools were lacking. But Peter raised the effort for KIPP’s to get underway that was joined by Cristo Rey.
Still, those were just the tip of Peter’s involvement in making his community healthy. There was also the forsaken Red Bird Mall. Peter saw a greater opportunity. It should be a community center with shops, restaurants, offices and medical facilities like UT Southwestern Medical Center, which has created a state-of-the-art health center.
At this point he directed his talk to how people handle challenges — “We protect ourselves from discomfort. We tell ourselves stories that fit [our] comfort level.
“These stories give us permission to blame the victim, to rationalize the problems, absolve ourselves of collective responsibility for the society and laws that cause theses problems. And really what they do in the end is they decrease our empathy.”
Such an instance took place when he was in Leadership Dallas. When it was revealed that there wasn’t a single iHop south of I-30, one of his classmates suggested, “Maybe Black people just don’t like pancakes.” That was his “story” for making himself feel comfortable about the situation.
He went on to say, “Through the Red Bird project I got as close to racism as I can as a white guy, and I am here to tell you that racism exists. We all have racist bones in our bodies. We all see color. And I think it’s impossible to be raised in this society and not internalize some bias coming at us from everywhere, even with the best intentions. Rather than tell ourselves stories, we have to search for our biases so we can intentionally counter them.”
He pointed to the UT Southwestern program at Red Bird and The Dallas Morning News’ efforts in confronting possible biases to serve the community.
Another time, when discussing the problem of the homeless not trusting the opportunities presented, Peter was told by Housing Forward President/CEO Joli Robinson, “If every system of support had failed you, so you literally had nowhere to go but the street, you would have trust issues. And if the only way you could mentally survive the indignities of homelessness was to give up hope of living a life of dignity, just abandon hope, then it would be an incredibly courageous act for you to take the risk and engage with an outreach worker who you don’t trust, who’s offering you help. And you’d probably say ‘No” a few times because it’s a protective mechanism. So, when people seem resistant, it’s not that they want to live outside. It’s that their coping mechanism has kicked in and they’re afraid to take that risk.”
In conclusion, he said, “We’re all here to talk about ethics. We’re all here to talk about the importance of ethics. And I really believe that you can’t have ethics without empathy. Because with empathy the guy living under the bridge is not some crazed guy who wants to live like that, but is a human being in survival mode. And which person are you more likely to help — the crazed guy or the human in survival mode?
“Without empathy we feel justified in ‘otherizing’ people. We get comfortable in denying people their dignity and giving them the opportunity they deserve. It saps us of empathy. So, if we want to live in an ethical world, we all have to foster empathy in ourselves, and the first great step is to recognize our own defense mechanisms. The stories we tell ourselves, and just always make sure that we are telling ourselves the truth. I think if we all do that and take a little step towards it, it will be a more ethical world.”
For more looks at the day, check out MySweetCharity Photo Gallery.