Posted December 19, 201812:15 pm
At 90, Dick Pogue remains one of Greater Cleveland’s most important civic leaders
When the Jones Day law firm offered Dick Pogue a job in Cleveland, the University of Michigan Law School graduate was decidedly underwhelmed.
“I had zero interest,” recalled Pogue of that 1957 recruitment effort. “I had never been to Cleveland. I had never heard of Jones Day.”
But Allen Holmes, the firm’s legendary managing partner, was not one to accept rejection. So Holmes kept trying - and eventually had his way.
But Pogue and his wife, Pat, came to Cleveland with a caveat.
“Our plan was to stay five years and then move on,” he explained.
Five years became 61 - and counting. The Pogues fell in love with Cleveland. And the powers that be at Jones Day and in civic, charitable and corporate boardrooms fell in love with Pogue.
“I loved the firm. We really loved living here. So here we are.”
And here we sit, in a small second-floor room in the Union Club.
The iconic Euclid Avenue club is Pogue’s power center of choice. The day will come when his portrait hangs in one of its high-ceilinged hallways, alongside the industrial barons who serve as a reminder of the industrial might that once made Cleveland one of the world’s most important cities.
Those days are nearly a century in Cleveland’s rearview mirror.
But Pogue, nine -tenths of the way to that century mark, is still a huge presence in the city, still working six days a week, still a “senior advisor” at Jones Day -- the firm that, until its name was shortened for simplicity’s sake -- was Jones Day Reavis & Pogue.
Pogue’s grudging concession to his 90 years is to cut back on his civic involvement. His resume lists 30 civic groups where he is a board member or actively involved -- that’s down from 40 or 50 when he was a young man in his 70s and 80s. A partial list of his diverse board memberships: Cleveland Institute of Music; Great Lakes Science Center; LEEDCo (the offshore wind power group); United Way; Cleveland Ballet; the Council on Foreign Relations in New York; the Gordon Square Arts District; Legal Aid Society of Cleveland; and University Hospitals.
Former Forest City Enterprises CEO Albert Ratner named Pogue -- along with late Eaton Corp. head E. Mandell de Windt and Squire Sanders lawyer James Davis -- as one of the three most influential business leaders of the last 60 years.
“There has never been a time when I asked Dick to get involved in something when he declined,” recalled Ratner, who will soon turn 91. “All the rest of us play a role and move on. Dick never leaves. He goes to every meeting. He stays involved forever.
“Dick shuns attention because he’s a person of great humility. But he’s done great things for this community.”
It speaks to their commitment that, in the 10th decade of life, Pogue and Ratner remain two of the community’s most influential citizens. But it’s also symptomatic of a decline in corporate involvement that bothers Pogue.
“We’ve kind of lost the interest and commitment of the major companies,” he said.
As Jones Day managing partner from 1984 to 1993, Pogue grew the law firm from 335 to 1,225 lawyers and opened 20 Jones Day offices across the globe.
Today, Jones Day is universally considered one of the world’s premier law firms. Although it technically remains a Cleveland-based firm, the center of the Jones Day universe is now in Washington and New York.
In 1988, Cleveland Magazine named Pogue “the most powerful man in the city.”
The ones who wield real power don’t talk about it.
So Pogue, never one to seek attention, downplays his influence.
“That’s hyperbole. I was in positions where I could make a difference and that’s what I tried to do. In terms of influence, Del de Windt was number one. After default, he saved the city.”
Pogue and de Windt were instrumental in recruiting George Voinovich to run for mayor in 1979. After Voinovich won, de Windt and Pogue both played key roles in the creation of the nationally touted public-private partnership between the city and business community.
For decades, Pogue has been instrumental in fundraising and support for the Cuyahoga County Republican Party. When asked about President Donald Trump, Pogue carefully says he supports many of Trump’s policies, adding, “I worry about his commitment to the rule of law.”
Some of those who know Pogue well say his private views about the president are less charitable.
Pogue’s wife and three children are Democrats. And his admirers are hardly limited to corporate-type Republicans.
Former County Commissioner Tim Hagan said Pogue was an enthusiastic supporter of every ballot issue dedicated to funding vital programs for the community’s less-fortunate citizens. “He was always generous with his time and money. Dick is an extremely honorable guy.”
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Joan Synenberg, who presides over the court docket dealing with drug addiction cases, said, “Dick is the best. He is incredibly helpful to so many groups and so many people. He is a dear, dear man, a humble man.”
He’s a man who’s hung around 56 years longer than planned, but hasn’t overstayed his welcome.