The University Record, April 8, 1998

As senior Regent, Power has advantage of 'institutional memory'

Regent Philip Power attributes at least some of his success in the publishing industry to experience he gained working for the Michigan Daily. Photo by Bob Kalmbach

Editor's Note: The following article is the second in a series devoted to the Board of Regents as a governance organization and the eight Regents as individuals who share the concerns of the members of the University community.

By Rebecca A. Doyle

No pay, few perks, long hours, must graciously receive and respond to complaints and requests for favors, benefits equivalent to a bagel and a diet Coke once a month, must be a member of a political party.

So might read the job description for a University of Michigan Regent. Sound like a great job?

It does to Philip Power, who has been a Regent for 11 years. He was appointed to fill the seat left vacant by the death of his first wife, Sarah Goddard Power. Three years later, he was elected to his first eight-year term, which expires this year. Power is running for re-election.

"I get goose bumps when I think about the University of Michigan," he says. "When the historians get around to writing the history of 20th-century America, I believe they will conclude that the signature creation of our society was to have founded and supported seriously excellent public universities." The significance of those universities to society is that they will have involved the largest possible number of students of different backgrounds in intellectual stimulation and personal growth to provide America with a richer population.

"These universities are and have been the driving force creating American society, and that is an important and enormous moral activity," Power says.

He believes that anyone who has "obtained some measure of success has an obligation to pay back to the society from which it came," a philosophy that is shared by many of the University's successful alumni.

Much of Power's personal history is with the U-M. His parents, Sadye and Eugene Power, met at the University, his mother a clinical psychologist and his father a successful businessman. They balanced each other well, he says, and "had a remarkably successful life together." His mother, Sadye Power, had what he describes as an insight and understanding of the way people work, which he says helped balance his father's charged and hard-working personality. Both were staunch supporters of the University and donated time and hard work to help build the campus, as evidenced by the Power Center for the Performing Arts.

After a brief stint at Harvard University, Power came back to Ann Arbor to heal after breaking his back, then enrolled at the U-M. While an undergraduate student, he spent time at the Michigan Daily, building experience that would later serve him well. Graduating Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude in 1960, he spent a year in graduate study at the U-M before becoming the sports editor and acting city editor at the Daily News-Miner in Fairbanks, Alaska, followed by two years at University College, Oxford, England, as a Marshall Scholar. Returning to Michigan in 1964, Power spent two years in politics before founding Observer Newspapers Inc. in 1966. Since then, his career has been newspaper work, and he is founder, owner and chair of the board for HomeTown Communications Network Inc.

"If I hadn't worked on the Daily, I would not have started my company," Power says. HomeTown Communications now publishes more than 60 community newspapers with a circulation of half a million readers in the upper Midwest, along with community telephone directories, specialty publications and Internet service companies.

The same spirit of repaying the society that made success possible should be carried across to other venues, Power says. A parishioner of St. Andrews church (where he sang in the boys' choir as a youth) he credits Kathy, his wife of eight years, with helping begin the breakfast program there.

He and Kathy enjoy cooking and having friends over for quiet dinners, and Power enjoys reading and gardening in his spare time. Always a fly-fisherman, he enjoys fishing trips to remote locations. Five years ago, the entire family--including son Nathan and stepson Scott Sutton--benefited from fishing lessons that he gave as a Christmas present. The family also owns a large black Labrador Retriever named Roman. Power says all his dogs have been named for something to do with journalism, Roman for a type style.

At the beginning of their term, Regents have a very steep learning curve and may spend a large amount of time getting up to speed on issues. Being senior Regent--the one who has served the longest time on the Board--has the possible advantage of perhaps being the one with the most "institutional memory," Power notes. He still spends an average of 10 hours per week under his Regent's hat, though.

What would he like the institution to hold in its memory of him?

"I would like to be remembered as someone who saw the University as an instrument through which to pay back society," Power says. "Thousands of people have seen their lives fundamentally changed by going to the University of Michigan.

"I would like to be known as someone who cared, who worked hard and who had creative ideas."