Transitions: Tides Honors Drummond Pike

Ideas and Issues

Drummond Pike and WadeSan Francisco It speaks to the very core and character of an institution – and its founder – when an institution can really honor the contributions of its founder and director for 34 years with class, confidence, conviction, and courage the way that the Tides Network of foundations, nonprofits, and sundry philanthropic enterprises did last night on the Presidio grounds for Drummond Pike.  There were laughs, heartfelt thanks, and, despite the best efforts, teary eyes as the Tides board, senior staff, and a few old veterans with long service and commitment to Tides like Michael Kieschnick, head of Working Assets / Credo, Russell Long, son of the first Tides board chair, and myself joined with Drummond and his wonderful family, Liza, Rachel, and Max to footnote the history and mark the transition to the future.  Orchestrated by incoming CEO Melissa Bradley, it was a special event and a wonderful gift for all of us who were lucky enough to be there.

Pictures flashed on the wall of old events and Drummond decades younger at the same time various people took their turns hurling good natured jibes and special appreciations.  Kieschnick shared his first story of Tides which would resonate with thousands when to his surprise he finally realized that he was not going to be given money for his new project, but was being offered a home for his idea where he would be paying the rent.  Emmet Aluli, the good doctor of Molokai, probably surprised many though as he related the little known but critical role that Drummond and Tides had played in supporting the native Hawaiian activists in stopping the Navy bombing of the sacred island nearby and preserving land for the future.   Joel Solomon commenting on Drummond’s contribution to creating new resource and philanthropic presence in Canada along probably will have some folks asking questions later about what they might have really meant.

All of which spoke to some of the grace and integrity that Drummond has brought to leadership of Tides over many decades and which has inspired such loyalty and commitment to the organization.  Tides under Drummond was rare in the philanthropic world because it was home of the big heart, rather than the big head.  An institution that grew from nothing to one of the 100 largest charities in the United States under his hand, but could still be called “little known” after the hate speech of Glenn Beck and Fox provoked a gunman to administer rough treatment, which was luckily foiled in a gunfight with area police.  Typical of Drummond and Tides one of the last “family” events like this one had brought the recovering police, the heroes on the scene, and their bosses for an appreciate joined by more than 60 of the staff only months ago.

Drummond had the original and unique conviction to create a huge service, resource, and funding center for social change and had done so without endowment, gifts or grants, but with a business model that created capacity by handling the transactions and warehousing money and distributing advice and assistance that serviced donors and countless nonprofits needing a home and support.  How unique!  And even rarer he had marked his time not simply with grace and charm and the sweet nothings so appreciated by the rich whose funds Tides handled and gifted, but with real and constant courage.  Courage is not part of the genetic makeup found in the herd mentality so common in philanthropic enterprise, but it characterized Drummond time after time when he both personally and institutionally would stand for what he believed no matter how unpopular, regardless of messaging and framing, and sometimes heedless of the consequences.  The work and what was right could speak for the organization, and that was enough.  To his credit and so many others who were part of the journey they built something for 34 years worthy of their time and lives.  All of us who have shared that and similar experiences know there is little that fits so well in the heart or lives so peacefully in the mind than knowing that we have lived well and given more than we’ve taken from our time and labor here.

Drummond in typical fashion spent his own time at the end noting the contributions of countless former staff and board members and their place in the mosaic of Tides history and why it should be honored and understood.  To some such remarks are perhaps easily forgotten as part of a transition and mile marks of a legacy, but knowing Drummond it was probably more likely a last bit of lobbying for a way that those in the future could try to gather the gold all around and understand anew what so many before them and so many to come could make of such a special and important institution and how to keep it both special and important.

Using Drummond’s office briefly before the event there was a quote on a postcard propped up to his computer that captured the event, the time, and Drummond so well:

And even if we are occupied with important things,
even if we attain honor or fall into misfortune,
still let us remember how good it was once here
when we were all together united by a good and kind feeling
which made us perhaps better than we are.

Dostoevsky (The Brothers Karamazov)

It’s rough out there so it was good to be able to celebrate a “good and kind feeling” which is so synonymous with Drummond and his stewardship and our own small roles in helping build Tides, which certainly “made us perhaps better than we are.”