A legend died today. Dr. Theodore “Ted” Stern, age 100, was the 20th Century. Born on Christmas day in 1912, Ted Stern witnessed the industrial revolution, two world wars, women getting the right to vote, desegregation, the first cars, telephones, TVs, man walking on the moon, and the leadership of 18 U.S. Presidents.
His biography, currently in development by Robert Macdonald, will be published later this year to commemorate a life well lived. We had the great good fortune to meet and talk with Dr. Stern in October for his profile in CHARLIE: The 2012 Book. Our short conversation influenced us profoundly. Ever the teacher, he spoke of the power of positivity and optimism with bright, clear eyes and an infectious laugh. His legacy lives on in each of us. Dr. Stern has one last life lesson to teach. These are his words:
What do you love about Charleston?
“Everything. Particularly the people. My closest friend when I came in ‘68 was Joseph P. Riley, Sr. His son, Joe, the current Mayor of Charleston, is the greatest Mayor in American history. A great visionary and strategist. He is a man of vision and integrity.”
What do you think of technology?
“The whole electronic revolution was the hallmark of the 20th Century. It advanced our world by advancing communications and information access. I remember the telephone when you had to crank it up, when there were party phone lines, long before dialing ever came in. The most amazing communications technology is the computer.”
You were the President of the College of Charleston for 10 years and the school credits you with guiding the institution to where it is today. What was your vision?
“It had to be integrated. When I interviewed, I told the Board of Trustees: ‘I don’t look at the color of skin or religious background of applicants. If they meet the qualifications and have the money to come, fine.’ … The College of Charleston had a total of six buildings when I came and when I left, we had 97 or 98.”
What does it mean to be a leader?
“Your goal is to succeed at whatever you’re doing. What is morally and legally possible, you do to achieve your goal.”
Tell us about your involvement in Spoleto.
“A lot of people have asked me how I got interested in the arts. My ear. Growing up in New York City, my mother used to take me by the ear to the symphony, the opera…. We lived next door to George and Ira Gershwin. I think Rhapsody in Blue is a remarkable achievement.”
What do you hope for Charleston’s future?
“I’d like to see it remain just as genuine as it is today. Charleston is unique; we’ve made great strides in the humanities and arts without the penalties of industrialization.”
What’s the “secret” to successful relationships?
“Trust and respect. And integrity. They’re all interrelated.”
What life lessons do you have to share?
“Be a good neighbor. That means treating your fellow man as you would have your fellow man treat you.”
What’s the secret to living a long, happy life?
“Keep breathing. Honestly! You look to the future and forget about the past. Learn from the past but look forward to the better times ahead. I choose to be an optimist.”
What are you most proud of?
“My family. One son and two daughters.”
How do you want to be remembered?
“Ted Stern. I’d like to leave a good name. That’s all that you can leave.”
With all of your accomplishments, what is your legacy?
“Being an honorable man. More important than your accomplishments is the human being you are. What you are rather than what you’ve done. I’d like to be remembered as a respected, honorable person.”
Story by: Claire Gibbons
Photo by: Gately Williams