Remembering Walter P. Stern

Kenneth R. Weinstein and Walter P. Stern in New York at Hudson's 2018 Herman Kahn Award Gala.

Eulogy for Walter P. Stern
Westchester Reform Temple
March 4, 2022


I stand here today because, in 1991, Wally Stern took interest in a graduate student earning all of $18,000 a year at Hudson Institute.

But Wally was an investor, in the broadest sensean investor in people, an investor in ideas and an investor in time.

It never occurred to me how extraordinary it was that the board chair would visit with me. But that was Wallynever self-important, never too busy, always interested in Hudson, our people and culture.

Wally Stern was a giant, but he was more importantly a menschthe epitome of decency, patriotism, and moral clarity.

There was, in fact, no one better to stand in your corner than Wally.

In 1997, a Hudson scholar opposed China’s accession into the WTOan unpopular stance in corporate America and even on Hudson’s board. But Wally stood with the scholar, defending the integrity of our researchsomething he did dozens of times.

When once top White House officials saw their lives overturned by innuendo and political prosecution, Wally would reach out personally to make sure that they and their families knew they could have a secure and productive intellectual home at Hudson. These turned into lifelong family friendships as well.

It was Wally’s friendship with Herman Kahn, whom he met in 1973, that led him to stand in Hudson’s corner with unparalleled dedication.

How did Wally come to know Herman? Through Betsy, of course, who, in her typical way, had taken in Gail Potter, a single mother trying to find her footing. Gail landed a job as executive assistant to the famous Herman Kahn.

Gail, in turn, brought Wally to a lecture by her new boss.

A deep bond was formed that day that changed the fate of Hudson Institute.

Herman and Wally were fellow Jews with broad and towering intellects, but they could hardly have been more different.

Herman was loud, emotive and Borscht Belt; Wally spoke softly, was genteel and understated.

Herman craved the limelight. Wally detested it.

Herman was unconventional not just in his thinking but in his behavior. Wally, by contrast, was a pillar of discipline and rectitude.

The anti-bourgeois Herman and the staid Wally, however, were made for each other.

Wally appreciated Herman’s genius, especially his long-term outlook which dovetailed with Wally’s investment philosophy.

Herman, in turn, appreciated the force of Wally’s intellect, but also his unmatched decency and dedication.

Wally knew that Herman’s talent, when properly harnessed, could help meet major policy challenges.

During Wally’s first board meeting, after Wally tried to bring order to Herman’s chaos, Herman asked Wally to become Chairman, a role he would hold over three decades.

Over those decades, no time was more challenging than July 1983, when Herman died suddenly, and the Institute was on troubled financial ground.

But Wally, ever loyal to Herman and his memory, believed America needed Hudson. He stood up to those trustees who thought that, with Herman gone, the Institute should shutter its doors.

In those dark days, through his leadership, Wally assumed Herman’s place as the heart and soul of Hudson Institute.

Just as none of Hudson’s prior work would have been possible without Herman, none of Hudson’s subsequent research would have been possible without Wally.

Wally, as was his way, never ever asked for recognition.

For Wally, it was always about Hudsonand never about himself.

No one did more to support Hudson financially but was less comfortable in being thanked in return. After sending us massive donation after massive donation, Wally’s gruff response, invariably delivered in monotone, was there’s no need to thank me.

Wally’s peers in finance might collect yachts, summer homes, fine paintings, and the like.

Wally instead chose to invest in people and ideas to secure America’s future.

Wally was so uncomfortable spending money on himself that he gave new meaning to the word frugal.

He bought his suits off the racka discount rack, that is sometime in the mid-1970s.

And why waste money on made-to-measure shirts, when decades-old, thread-bare button downs did the job?

Instead of fancy English wing tips, Wally was a futurist, the earliest adopter of black sneakers as dress shoeswith the added advantage that you don’t have to polish them.

Once Wally and I were in Beijing for a Hudson conference at the official Chinese State Guest House. Wally spotted me in the gift shop about to buy a $2 post card to send to my family I saw my life pass before me as Wally informed me that there were perfectly good complimentary postcards in our rooms. Ok, so my kids were a little perplexed when daddy sent them a picture of a chandelier from China.

After telling that story at a dinner for Wally when he stepped down as board chairman, a few days later I received a lovely postcard of the swimming pool at the Holiday Inn in Beijing: “Dear Ken, I fully understand. Wally’s been doing the same thing to me for years.” It was signed Betsy.

Betsy: you and Wally were united in so many powerful ways: love of family, love of country, dedication to others, selfless philanthropy, combined with a profound aversion to the limelight and the world of the self-important.

We all loved Wally, but when he was with you, your Southern ways brought out a different side to this hard-charging man than the rest of us ever could: more relaxed, humorous, and cheerful.

Betsy, the incredible traits you and Wally lived by, you passed on to Sarah, Willy and David.

At Hudson, we’ve been incredibly fortunate to have a second generation of Sterns, trained by the very best, at the helm.

Over the past decade, under Sarah’s wise and understated leadership, Hudson has not only maintained its strong intellectual tradition, but we’re even—finallyon firm financial ground.

Wally had slowed significantly down in recent years. Our conversations grew shorter, and he asked fewer of the gentle but piercing questions on policy that were his trademark for decades. Still, his passing came as a real shock.

Wally was not just the pillar of Hudson Institute, but he was a pillar in my life. As in our first meeting back in 1991, over the decades, he not only made time to discuss world affairs, but he was always there for me to confide in, and to give sage advice, especially in the most challenging times.

The best advice he ever gave me was not about Hudson. It was personal, “family first.”

I valued his fatherly counsel and wisdomand cherished his approval.

I cannot begin to describe what it meant when I saw Wally in recent years take immense pride in Hudson for living up to the expectations he had for us.

My friend, I will miss you, your wise and gentle ways.

But you, your insight, your character, your unmatched dedication will continue to be the heart and soul of Hudson, inspiring us to live up to your example in the years ahead.