Posted April 27, 201910:00 am
Dick Pogue concedes he has a problem saying, “No.” After all, the numbers don’t lie.
Pogue has held dozens of leadership positions over six decades of public service. That’s in addition to his career with Cleveland-based Jones Day, the law firm he helped expand internationally during his time as managing partner in the 1980s and ’90s.
In fact, you’d have a difficult time finding a local nonprofit, civic cause or economic development initiative he hasn’t touched over the last half-century. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland Foundation, University Hospitals, The City Club of Cleveland, Greater Cleveland Growth Association, United Way of Greater Cleveland, University of Akron and Cleveland Leadership Center are just a few standouts from his lengthy résumé.
And it’s not passive involvement, according to former University of Akron president Luis Proenza.
“He expects results in anything he does,” Proenza said.
And at 91 years old, he’s barely slowed — and still expects results.
He’s actively involved with more than two dozen organizations. That involvement included a recent trip to Washington, D.C., to lobby against President Donald Trump’s directed cuts to the Legal Services Corp., which funds nonprofits that provide legal assistance to the poor. As Cleveland Ballet’s board chair, he’s also helping the dance company re-establish itself after years of dormancy. Pogue also co-chairs the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland’s capital campaign.
“As for retirement, I am against it,” he said recently. “As for age, there is nothing I can do about it.”
Pogue, born in the Boston area, never expected to stay in Cleveland for more than a few years. The idea that he’d come to be known as “Mr. Cleveland” and the city’s ultimate cheerleader was out of the question. But he and his wife, Pat, came to love the city — a place with some of the same assets as the bigger metropolitan areas but a “nicer environment to raise a family.”
The first few years he was here, though, Pogue did “nothing but work,” honing his craft as a top-flight corporate attorney. He would advise the same to any young professional itching to get involved in civic affairs. Pogue only dipped his toe into community service to atone for what he described as “staying out too late one evening.” His volunteer work with teenagers for what was then known as the Goodrich Social Settlement House blossomed into a life of service.
“It’s always a struggle,” Pogue said about balancing the demands of his schedule. “The nonprofit world — it’s like drinking an ocean. You could spend your whole life doing it because there’s so much need.”
While Pogue has yet to shed his “Mr. Cleveland” moniker, he always has viewed his service through a wider, regional lens. He has spoken often about regional collaboration and even co-founded the Regional Business Council, the forerunner to Team NEO, the regional business retention and attraction nonprofit.
In many ways, Pogue is the embodiment of old-school Cleveland: a well-tailored and connected businessman who dines at the Union Club and is as present in civic affairs as in the boardroom. He agrees with an assessment that the business community here isn’t as entrenched in civic affairs as he and his peers were — likely a byproduct of the globalization of business and the departure of several high-profile headquarters.
Pogue played a role in what he described as the “great Cleveland comeback from 1980 to 1996.” That started, of course, by putting an end to Dennis Kucinich’s turbulent tenure as mayor and helping elect George Voinovich as his replacement. Business leaders and elected officials worked together on a shared vision for the city.
In Pogue’s estimation, that collaboration is what’s missing from Cleveland’s current comeback.
“If we can re-create that public-private partnership, it would be a great thing for the city,” he said. — Tim Magaw