My Turn: A true leader strives to make world a better, more loving place


Thursday, November 23, 2017

“At the start of his 18th year as president of Greenfield Community College, Bob Pura has announced he will be retiring.” (A Recorder article from Aug. 31, 2017)

Speaking as a GCC employee of 28 years, I am not alone in saying that this news has been profound. Bob is much loved and appreciated on campus and throughout this community. A man of great character and wisdom, Bob is admired for many things.

He is a true renaissance man — an outspoken promoter for and consumer of the arts, a person who deeply appreciates the world of science and math, who brought GCC to a place where we live up to the “green” in our name, a strong advocate for our health providers, both on-campus and throughout the community — the list goes on. Most of all, Bob has been an inspiring leader.

As Bob contemplates his retirement, others of us contemplate the example of his leadership. That example looks even brighter in comparison to the current lack of presidential leadership on the national scale. What is the essence of a great leader? What does it mean to be presidential?

Several years ago, as I was about to take on a leadership position at the college, a colleague said to me, “Trust no one, until they have given reason to trust.” I said no, I will trust everyone until they give me reason not to trust them. I strive to treat people this way because I believe in the essential good in humankind. But I am not naïve. I know that most human beings, when pushed or influenced by nefarious actors, when deprived of information and education, when presented with propaganda in the face of mass hysteria, can be pushed toward the darker sides of our natures.

Leaders have an awesome power and responsibility; good ones help shape the ethical standards with which the fabric of our society is woven. This to me is the core of what it means to act, or more importantly, be presidential. Simply put, the essence of being presidential is to lead us, through words and through deeds, to the finer sides of our natures. The measure of a president is in the extent to which he or she influences us for good.

On a national scale, consider two people who at least acted presidential — Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan. Yes, I include Ronald Reagan. Though I disagreed with him on virtually every policy position, he at least understood his responsibility to give voice to the American values of freedom, respect and equality. And no president in my lifetime has spoken more eloquently than Barak Obama about the dignity inherent in all of us, about encouraging our aspirations to do good, about the imperative for us as a society to ever reach for our higher values.

What is not presidential is to act for self-aggrandizement. It is not presidential to foment discord. It is not presidential to propagate a world view based on one’s narcissistic and myopic view. It is not presidential to complement those who would divide us and denigrate those who lift us up. It is not presidential to act on whim or on hearsay or on conspiracy theories. Rather, one must demonstrate decision making that is based in fact and based on values. And those values should include support and respect for those less fortunate; the honoring of the freedoms of speech, religion, and the press. One must demonstrate a love for all of humankind — whatever race, creed or religion.

Of course, presidents have vast responsibilities — to run the government, to be the commander in chief, to support the development of policies, to work with Congress to enact laws and provide funding to move the nation forward. But no responsibility is more important than that of being the national role model.

The Yiddish word “Mensch” has come to mean in Jewish culture a man or a woman who does good deeds, who inspires others to follow their example to make our world a better and more loving place. A president should be the “mensch in chief. ”

Bob Pura has been GCC’s and this community’s “Mensch in Chief.” An example: Bob came to GCC at a time of some turmoil and controversy. What was his first act? It was to tell a story — a story involving his immigrant father who worked his whole life to make a better life for his children, and by extension, his community. It was a story that set a tone and expressed a set of values which Bob has consistently maintained throughout his time at GCC.

Bob loves a story I tell about my dad who, like Bob’s dad, came to this country as an immigrant. This story ends in a punch-line that can’t be printed in a family newspaper. But, the essence of it is this: That there is no finer calling than to work in the service of others; that in leadership, one holds oneself to higher ideals, cognizant of the example one sets.

Sometimes, when faced with those who don’t appreciate you or your work, or who act on more selfish or disingenuous motives, it is hard to hold to those ideals. As a leader, one must always strive to take the higher ground, to stay above the ugliness. Bob Pura understood the weighty role he took on; the “Mensch in Chief,” a mentor for the community. Our so-called president in Washington would do well to look to Bob as an example of what it means to act and be presidential.

Thank you Bob, for showing us how it is done.

Peter Rosnick is a GCC faculty emeritus and directs GCC’s Sustainable Agriculture and Green Energy Education Center