Archive for December 1st, 2011

MY Uncle Bob

Fifty years ago, when I was a graduate assistant in political science at the University of South Carolina, the head of that Department, my boss, got a promotion to a Chair in Political Science at Emory University.

In his last period of Head of the Department, he said to me: “It turns out that the person who really runs Emory is the Assistant to the President, Bob Whitaker. Do you know about him?”

I replied, “He’s my cousin.” Which was true, but I had never met the man.

But the fact that the real head of Emory was my cousin didn’t seem to make my boss feel more secure.

Titles are traitorous. At the University of South Carolina, the Assistant to the President of the University was a young man whom I knew very well, a few years older than I was. It was a nice job with no authority

In fact, he ended up being fired after being drunk for a couple of weeks.

This is a considerable contrast to my cousin, the Assistant to the President of Emory University, who ran Emory. And Emory, remember, was such a huge institution that the head of the Department of Political Science at the University of South Carolina could get a big promotion by taking a position there.

Of course, the basic difference was what the title of President meant in each case. The President of the University of South Carolina became, governor, and, briefly, self-appointed Senator. He actually presided as president.

The president of Emory, on the other hand, was an honorary position conferred on members of the Candler family which ran Coca-Cola and largely financed Emory.

My Uncle Bob Whitaker ran Emory because the President barely showed up.

All this was well known in my family. You can run things for thirty years or you can be a United States Senator for a year or two.

Power and a title are two entirely different things.

This is what I learned from MY Uncle Bob.