Dick Celeste, the former Ohio governor, breezed into his home state for a few days last week with an itinerary that included endorsing Democratic Senate candidate P.G. Sittenfeld. That bit of political business aside, he called me for a friendly chat while riding to Cleveland from Columbus.
At 78, he's still engaged in several missions after his nine-year presidency at Colorado College that ended in 2011. Earlier, he had been a two-term governor, Peace Corps director, ambassador to India. (I may have missed six or seven along the way. )
Forever accessible in office as a casual upbeat guy with a broad smile, wit, and overwhelming formal intelligence, Celeste is now busy in a project to lure the Winter Olympics to Colorado. "We've raised $50 million of our $80 million goal," he says with his always present optimism. With his tireless presence on the team, I figure they'll reach the goal.
He's also working on his memoirs that could fill several books for his path of successes. Joe Hallett, the widely respected Columbus Dispatch political columnist, now retired, once wrote of Celeste that the Cleveland-born, Yale-educated Rhodes scholar was "one of the most-accomplished and consequential Ohioans of the past half century". As one whose job was sustained coverage of Celeste, often like catching a whirlwind, I can easily agree.
Our brief conversation a few days ago, no more than several minutes long, reminded me of how the state let a person of enormous ability get away. As the University of Akron's troubles continue to grow, I can only speculate how it might have had a happier narrative if the school's managers had somehow convinced him to take the job back when presidencies lasted a lot longer than they do now. He had been a finalist for the president's office at Case Western Reserve in 2002, but the story at the time was that a person with designs on the job in the Oval Office might just stay a few years before returning to the political arena.
So he's back in Colorado Springs. Meantime, any other highly qualified academic whiz who might have a taste for the top job of a public university as a Democrat would have a tough time getting past the boards burdened across the state with Republicans.
The University of Akron is no exception. It's been rebranded with a new name, so to speak, with a president safely sheltered in the mix. But with so many sparks flying on the downtown campus today, wouldn't it have been more appropriate to label UA as "Ohio's Pyrotechnic University" instead of the current techie one?
Sorry, the Celeste Effect is that after a few moments on the phone with him, we are left with regressing into what might been.