Farewell to an Icon:
DICK McCALL by James “Spike” Stephenson
February 20, 2013
Last month, Creative lost the daily joy of the presence of an icon. Dick McCall retired. Fortunately, he will still work a few days a week as a consultant, but I will profoundly miss the daily dose of his wisdom, humor and good will, as will the cadre of Creative employees that Dick mentored over the years. For his peers, the days are a little less bright, with a little less laughter.
Dick was a child of the Great Plains, who started his career as a journalist, before turning his skills to the development and implementation of foreign policy, as Democratic staff to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC). When I first met him in 1990, he was visiting El Salvador, seeking a way to jump-start negotiations to end the, then, ten-year civil war that had decimated that country. He was by then a moderate senior staffer for the SFRC, with strong contacts with El Salvador’s left. I was USAID’s private sector officer, with strong contacts with the country’s mercantilist oligarchs. When Dick asked me to introduce him to and help him to understand the latter, I was skeptical. Most Democrats opposed US policy in El Salvador, and Dick’s transparent motive to be an honest broker seemed suspicious, at best. Over the next two years, as we worked behind the scenes to bring the factions together and hammer out a peace agreement, I learned that Dick’s extraordinary ability to gain the trust of the oligarchs, military, government and guerillas was the thread that bound together the whole effort. He is still a hero to Salvadorans of all political persuasions who lived through those two years of hard work that brought a lasting peace.
In 1993, Dick left the SFRC to become Chief of Staff at USAID, where his brokering skills were tested in Somalia, Rwanda, and other nightmares. He served three Administrators under two Administrations, before retiring from government to join Creative in 2001. Here he served as Senior Vice President for programs and in his last years as Senior Vice President and Senior Advisor. For the past seven years, I had the pleasure of teaching, writing and partnering with Dick on various panels and workshops. We each came in early and usually started the day with a discussion of current affairs or events. We sought each other’s advice and valued it equally. In that regard, I was one of many—because Dick was a good listener and patient observer. A man of great intellect, curiosity, experience and passion for our work, I never saw him bored by the quotidian pursuits of doing business. But there was little that escaped his critical gaze and impartial appraisal. Dick was and remains the consummate “straight shooter.”
Lest this sound like an obituary, Dick is still with us—but only for two days a week. For those of us who know him, that is better than going cold turkey, but not much and not enough. For those of you who do not, take advantage of those days and get to know him before he retires completely. You will be enriched.