By William L. Gertz
Chairman & CEO, American Institute For Foreign Study
A warm welcome to friends, family and colleagues from around the world. Cyril would have been so pleased to see so many people here today!
Cyril had two great passions in his professional life: AIFS and Richmond. Cyril was often nostalgic, and never tired of telling stories. For AIFS, it was the origin of the organization with Roger and Doug and how they enlisted a young teacher from North Carolina, Nell Khady, to take a group of high school students abroad in hopes of expanding their horizons. These first students were the start of the AIFS mission. Today, Cyril’s dream of cultural exchange and education, his dream of AIFS, is alive and well – 1.5 million students later.
For Richmond, he would reminisce about the purchase of the property, the founding of the institution and all the famous families from around the world who had their sons and daughters enrolled. Richmond was – and is – a unique institution, with students attending from around the globe – and Cyril was very proud to be the Founder and Chancellor.
But Cyril was so much more than merely nostalgic for the past. He kept pushing forward, and taught us the importance of focus, drive and ”proper” statistics and everything else he learned at Harvard Business School and Procter & Gamble. He was a self-made man who came from modest means and became what he would later call, a very successful “social entrepreneur”.
For Cyril, the lifeblood of the work was about his staff and the students. When he passed away, the calls and emails we received from hundreds of former staff around the world all had the same theme – that Cyril had greatly impacted their lives. That Cyril had influenced their careers and their future. Indeed, Cyril once told me that he set out to create a company that would “do good” while enabling staff to raise our families, pay our mortgages and send our children to college.
All of us here were touched by him. We will miss his unbreakable optimism, unwavering vision and the deep passion he had for the work we do every day. He never got tired of trying to make us better – so that we could make the world a better place.
In recent years, Cyril began to call me less often, and his calls were more philosophical than business-related. He asked about my kids – he loved children – and when I told him my daughter-in-law was expecting, he was thrilled. He asked me on every call if I was “happy.” I said I was.
Cyril was not a sentimental man. He liked awards and honors of course, but mostly – he was just eager to move on to the next challenge. Cyril was a driven man who always had a specific agenda in mind and didn’t like to be told no. He hated bureaucracy and believed in making his own destiny – forging his own specific path. He did not wish to dwell on problems; he wanted to look for opportunities. And if he were here today, he would pull his schedule out of his pocket – right in the middle of the eulogy – turn to me and say, “What’s next Bill?”
What’s next is for all of us to carry out his legacy the best we can – and continue to “bring the world together.”