Harlan Cleveland; Dean, Author, Statesman and Lifelong Learner

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 6, 2008

Harlan Cleveland, the founding dean of the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs in Minneapolis, hated the ubiquitous valediction "Have a nice day!"

"What I want is exciting days, passionate days, blessed days, wondrous days, surprising days," he told the World Future Society in a 1989 speech. He suggested to his listeners an alternative response: "Thank you, but I have other plans."

Mr. Cleveland, who died May 30 of multiple myeloma at his home in Sterling, had a number of engaging "other plans" during his 90 years. He was a journalist, an assistant secretary of state, a NATO ambassador, a university president and the author of a dozen books on leadership and public policy, and he was interested in almost everything -- in part because he believed that everything is interrelated.

He was quick to anticipate the implications of the information revolution and predicted the arrival of the knowledge worker in the global marketplace. He also believed, as he wrote in his book "Birth of a New World" (1993), that "flexible, uncentralized systems work best," whether the system is a government, a business or a charitable endeavor.

"He seemed to get himself on the cutting edge of a lot of ideas," said Walter T. Anderson, a San Francisco author and political scientist who with Mr. Cleveland examined the changing paradigms for global governance.

In his book "Nobody in Charge: Essays on the Future of Leadership" (2002), Mr. Cleveland explored how global governance was increasingly being influenced by the ever-shifting interplay of a growing list of participants: not only governments, governmental and nongovernmental organizations, but also multinational corporations, foundations and non-state actors as varied as Brazilian rubber-tree workers and al-Qaeda.

"His intellectual curiosity was amazing," said Patrick Mendis, a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies who accompanied his mentor on a tour of the Middle East when Mr. Cleveland was president of the World Academy of Art and Science. "He learned how to count to 10 in Arabic from a taxi driver on our way to meet with King Hussein of Jordan in Amman," Mendis recalled.

Born in New York, Mr. Cleveland studied in Switzerland as a child, where he became fluent in French, and then graduated from Phillips Academy Andover in 1934. He graduated from Princeton University in 1938 -- his only degree -- and then studied at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. In 1981, he was awarded the Swiss Prix de Talloires and honored as an "accomplished generalist."

Blinded in his right eye in a childhood accident, he was ineligible for military service during World War II but was eager to be involved in public service. He worked with the Allied Control Commission in Italy and with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration in Italy and China.

In the early 1950s, Mr. Cleveland was executive editor and then publisher of the Reporter magazine in New York before becoming dean of Syracuse University's Maxwell Graduate School for Citizenship and Public Affairs in 1956.

In a 2003 interview with a columnist for the Post-Standard of Syracuse, he recalled how then-Sen. John F. Kennedy gave the commencement address at the Maxwell School in 1957. "It fell to me to squire him around," he said. The men became friends, and three years later Mr. Cleveland joined the Kennedy administration as assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs.

He served primarily as an intermediary between Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Adlai Stevenson, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. In the Post-Standard article, Mr. Cleveland recalled leaving the office late one night during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis and saying to Rusk, "I'll see you in the morning."

"I hope so," the secretary of state replied.

After Kennedy's assassination, Mr. Cleveland served as President Lyndon B. Johnson's ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

From 1969 to 1974, he was president of the University of Hawaii. During that time, the university added a medical school, a law school and an international astronomy project.

He served as director of international affairs at the Aspen Institute from 1974 to 1980 before becoming the first dean of the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

In 1983, Mr. Cleveland walked into an IBM store in Minneapolis, where a young clerk took note of the 65-year-old customer's gray hair and asked, "You're not buying this for you, are you, sir?"

Not only was he slightly miffed, but he also realized he needed to get up to speed on a phenomenon he had been ignoring. "He proceeded to buy everything in the store," recalled his daughter, Melantha Cleveland, "and became a philosopher of what it meant to have all this information flowing around the world."

In his book "The Knowledge Executive: Leadership in an Information Age" (1985), he posited -- years before the Internet -- that the information revolution would make it impossible for leaders and so-called experts to hoard information. Leadership, he predicted, would increasingly bubble up from new sources rather than trickle down from established leaders.

Mr. Cleveland retired from the Humphrey Institute in 1987 but continued to write books, articles and newspaper columns until shortly before his death. His final writing project was to contribute two chapters to "Adlai Stevenson's Lasting Legacy" (2008).

In addition to his daughter, of Palmyra, Va., survivors include his wife of 66 years, Lois Cleveland of Sterling; two other children, Zoe Cleveland and Alan Cleveland, also of Palmyra; and a grandson.

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