Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Integrity and Perseverance

BOND: So then after this experience, what happens to you then? I want to trace your career.

THEUS: Sure, well… From there, let’s say this: I did work on some highly classified data that I provided the Commander on a regular basis, and so forth.

BOND: Let me interrupt you there: I hear you have moved into a really elite position?

THEUS: Yes, that’s correct, that’s a different thing, you’re right.

BOND: And that also creates distinction for you, different than if you’d been just handling regular data.

THEUS: Yes, yes, it does. Exactly.

BOND: I am sorry, go ahead.

THEUS: So then, one day, I received notice that I was going to be transferred to the Pentagon. I think I might have mentioned last evening, that many of my friends came to me, and said, “Gee, Lu, you know, we at the Pentagon, I’ve been there, and we use Colonels to empty the waste baskets. And you’re a Captain, and you’re going to the Pentagon, what are you going to do, what do you think they’ll have you doing?” Well, I said, “Well, I’ll just do what whatever I need to do." So I went on to the Pentagon, continued in logistics and statistical services, computers and all of that. And I had the task of developing systems to control logistics, the supplies, and so forth, equipment. But at the same time, I had to make many policy decisions. Now, these decisions, emanating from the Pentagon, affected operations, of course, throughout the world. I enjoyed doing this. I found that it was easy for me, having had this experience at this lower level, it was easy for me to grasp what needed to be done, and to develop the systems and to make the policy decisions and so forth. I encountered a Colonel for whom I worked at this lower level. And he came to me very apologetically, one day in the hallway, as we were passing one another. And he said, “Lu, I think that you’re probably wondering how you got to the Pentagon.” And he said, “I hope you are not unhappy with me,” he said. “But I received word from the headquarters that they were seeking a sharp young officer, and perhaps we’d even like to have a minority fellow, if you have one, who can move into this position, we’d like to give them an opportunity to work at this level.” And he said, “And I nominated you and they selected you.” And I said, “By all means, Colonel, I’m just real happy to be here.” So that worked out well. I continued to work very hard at the Pentagon. I took things very seriously, as one should. It didn’t matter if we had things that we had to do beyond the normal work hours. Now there, though, in the Pentagon, most of the time you did not see your co-workers socially. So there wasn’t that kind of a problem. I did receive word, as recently as a couple of months ago, from a fellow with whom I worked, or who worked for me, as a civilian, in this job. I didn’t know this, and this is the first time I’ve stated this publically. But he said, in an email to me, he said, and I still have that email, incidentally, he said, “Lu, you’re probably wondering about an incident that occurred while you were in charge of this branch in the Pentagon.” And he said, “If you’ll recall, I came to you and said, I have to go and see the top-level Colonel in this group. And that you asked me if there was something wrong and if I could help in any way. And I told you that, no, that there’s nothing that I can ask you to do for me. I can’t share it with you, but I just want your permission to talk to the Colonel.” And I said to him, “Stan, this is most unusual, but I trust you, so if you have a problem that you need to discuss with the Colonel, go ahead, you have my permission.” And I never heard any more about it. In fact, I didn’t even ask him about it anymore. But he related to me what had happened.

BOND: And this is almost 50 years later.

THEUS: That’s right, that’s right. He said that he was in a food line in the cafeteria, and there was a Lieutenant Colonel, who was on the next level above me, and he was speaking with one of his contemporaries, and he said “You know, we have this n-word person working in the office,” and he said “and I think that it’s really terrible that it’s come to this.” And then he had a few other disparaging comments, and said that, “Well, I am certainly not going to cooperate with him, he will never get anything done past me.” And so Stan overheard this, and he said that he didn’t do anything about it on the spot, he wanted to talk to the Chief of the department, and he did. And interestingly enough, this person was not selected for Colonel. This person was cashiered out of the Air Force at the end of his term as a Lieutenant Colonel. That meant that he had to retire several years earlier, and so forth. And I didn’t know that this had happened. And Stan and I were not really buddy-buddy. We were casual friends, but not real close. So my point in telling you this one is that sometimes help comes from sources that are unexpected. And you don’t know that there are individuals who are really in your corner, who prefer not to necessarily be identified, they are not seeking any adulation, or any praise or what have you, they just do it because they feel it’s the right thing to do.

BOND: It’s a great story.