Richard Shatten : A genius, and much more
The tributes to Richard Shatten that rolled in last night sounded like a broken record.”He was an absolutely brilliant guy,” said Sen. George Voinovich.
“He had luminescent brilliance of thought, a crystalline mind,” said former Cleveland Planning Director Hunter Morrison.
“He clearly had one of the finest minds of any human being I have ever met,” added former County Commissioner Timothy Hagan.
On and on it went.
Cleveland State University Professor Ned Hill said Shatten possessed “an intuitive genius.” Joe Roman, head of the Cleveland Tomorrow business group, said Shatten was probably the smartest person he ever met.
There were others, but the point is made. And, indeed, no one who knew him would doubt for a second that Shatten , who died of a brain tumor yesterday at the age of 46, was a genius.
But Richard Shatten was more than that. Much more.
He was – in order of importance – a spectacular human being and the unsung hero of all the good things that happened in Greater Cleveland during the 1980s and into the first part of the 1990s. First in his position at McKinsey & Co., then as the head of Cleveland Tomorrow, and more recently at Case Western Reserve University, Shatten made contributions to this community that are incalculable.
“If you were to ask me to identify five persons who were the most important to this community in the last 20 years, he would be in my top five,” said Squire Sanders & Dempsey lawyer John Lewis. “And he’d probably be close to the top of the list of five.”
With much justification, most of the credit for the Gateway project invariably falls to former Mayor Michael R. White and Hagan. But behind the scenes, the heavy lifting was done by Shatten .
“Richard knew as much about baseball as my 1-year-old son,” recalled Roman. “But that project wouldn’t be there without Richard. I used to scream at him for not taking credit for things. But with Richard, it was never about him. It was always about trying to get things done.”
But Shatten was also about more than shiny new downtown buildings. Voinovich credited him with convincing the private sector of the need to invest in inner-city housing as the city was emerging from default.
“Although he was working for the private sector, he had a public heart,” said Voinovich. “They don’t know it, but he touched the lives of thousands of Clevelanders. This was a sweet man who got up every morning and wanted to touch people’s lives.”
Shatten was a man with virtually no ego. He had no personal agendas, other than love and devotion to his wife, Jeanne, and three daughters.
For him, it was never about power and always about ideas – ideas that might make Greater Cleveland a better place to live and work.
“One reason this is such a profound loss is because Richard was one of the very few people who had a broad grasp of the region,” said Morrison. “In many ways, Richard got it much more than the politicians did. He was profoundly important.”
In the 1980s, before coming to Cleveland, Gund Foundation Executive Director David Bergholz was working in Pittsburgh and heard rave reviews about “this spectacular, very young guy from Cleveland” he would be meeting during a seminar held not far from Pittsburgh. “So I went to this retreat and was dazzled by him,” Bergholz recalled last night. “He was such a natural. He had enormous skills. And he was not one of these guys who was just brilliant and kept his own counsel. He was always willing to share everything.”
Last week, when he knew he was dying, Shatten took time to meet with County Commissioner Tim McCormack about an economic development plan the commissioners hope to implement.
“I can only imagine how difficult that was for him,” said McCormack. “But he did it because he was among our very best.”
They didn’t come any better.