advocates renewed civic action -- nation is in need, she says
By Anne Bromley
yourself sitting in an airplane five or 10 years from now, hearing
two people behind you talking about your organization: what do
they say that makes you feel proud or makes you want to shrink?
Using that scenario was one way Rebecca Rimel, when she became
president and chief executive officer of the Pew Charitable Trusts,
led the foundation's board
to a more pro-active approach in its grant-making and other activities.
1973 Nursing School graduate, Rimel discussed the responsibilities
of citizens, as well as philanthropies, when she returned to U.Va.
Nov. 3 to receive the Women's
Center's 1999 Distinguished Alumna Award.
Along with being honored at a benefit dinner at President John
T. Casteen III's house that night, Rimel spoke to students at
a private luncheon and gave a public talk in the Rotunda. During
the latter speech, she decried "an ailing and diseased public
life" -- with low voter participation as a prime example
-- and called on a renewal of civic involvement.
posed a similar question about accountability to the audience
filling the Dome Room, asking: If we each had our own 15 minutes
of fame, how would we want to be judged?
easy to lead in good times. The real work comes in difficult times,"
said Rimel, whose achievements include significantly increasing
the Pew Trusts' support for environmental concerns and launching
the Pew Civic Journalism Center. The Philadelphia-based foundation,
which granted more than $210 million last year to about 300 organizations,
is also working on campaign finance reform.
the items Thomas Jefferson listed on his tombstone for which he
wanted to be remembered, Rimel called the Declaration of Independence
"a touchstone still there for us when we need it.
"We are in a time of need right now," she said.
elections in 1996 marked the first time in 70 years that more
eligible voters stayed home than went to the polls," she
said, adding that it was in large part due to the low numbers
of young people voting. She cited a lack of civics education in
school and at home and the media's negative focus on issues as
reasons why "it's no surprise that young people are disaffected.
people feel that no one is listening to their voices, and they're
need their time and talent," said Rimel, acknowledging the
growing number of young volunteers and saying it would be wise
to attract their interest for a broader civic activism.
linked elections back to campaign financing by saying that not
having full disclosure of contributions makes citizens feel like
their votes aren't going to matter.
to Jefferson's Statute of Religious Freedom, she said the United
States has gone too far in separating church and state, that religious
views and morality should be brought to the table to enrich public
debates. She later explained that she meant to enhance tolerance
and understanding, not to advance political agendas or narrow
views. Religion can provide social connectedness, and conversely,
if there are tensions about different beliefs, they should be
discussed openly, she said.
University -- the third accomplishment on Jefferson's epitaph
-- has been able to seize problematic moments in its history and
see them through, thereby reinventing itself, Rimel said. She
especially commended President Casteen and the Board of Visitors
for continuing to support diversity in the student body despite
recent attacks on admissions procedures.
the talk and at the less formal luncheon with students and other
U.Va. representatives, Rimel stressed that being born, raised
and educated in Charlottesville gave her a great start in life
and instilled in her the importance of history. That history also
referred to her own life story. In giving advice to students,
she told them to "remember where you came from and who your
mentors have been."
Dr. John Jane, the head of neurosurgery in the Medical School,
hired her as the first nurse to join the medical faculty, he took
a calculated risk, she said about one of her mentors. "I
am most motivated by those who are willing to stand up and be
counted," she said.
Along with the importance of thoughtful risk-taking, she cautioned
the luncheon guests not to set their standards so high they'd
be unattainable. "I think sometimes women especially set the bar
too high in our personal and professional lives.
"If you set realistic and ambitious goals, there are very
few boundaries that can stand in your way," she said. "I've
been called a raging incrementalist. I try to set realistic benchmarks
toward bigger goals."
her evolving career, Rimel has maintained ties to the Nursing
School and U.Va., currently serving on the Executive Committee
of the Campaign for the University. She chaired the Nursing Advisory
Board from 1992-97, and last year she joined the Alumni Association's
Board of Managers. In addition, Rimel has served on the board
of Monticello's Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation since 1993.