By Ken Kusmer
In his 2003 book on leadership, Randall Tobias likened difficult or unpleasant issues to a moose in the room. It's better to address the issue openly and honestly, he wrote, than ignore the moose and risk negative consequences.
Randall Tobias said Saturday that he and his wife will spend most of their time in Indy.
That philosophy helped Tobias, 65, build a respected career as a top executive who led AT&T through deregulation and stabilized drug-maker Eli Lilly and Co. after a stock plunge and regulatory problems.
It also caught the eye of President Bush, who tapped the longtime GOP donor in 2003 to become his global AIDS coordinator and again in 2006 to direct U.S. foreign aid programs.
Tobias' abrupt resignation last month after his name surfaced in an investigation into a high-priced Washington escort service has made him the target of late-night TV jokes and left many of his friends trying to make sense of his role in Washington's latest sex scandal.
"I was saddened by it because here's a guy that had a pretty spectacular career," said John F. Burness, spokesman at Duke University, where Tobias was a longtime trustee. "It's the kind of thing that people will remember, and people will forget the good things he did."
Tobias has kept a low profile since admitting he hired women from the Pamela Martin and Associates escort service to come to his Washington condo and give him massages.
But, on Saturday, he issued a statement, reflecting on the gratitude he and his wife feel for the support they have received and their thoughts about the future.
"Marianne and I very much appreciate the many calls and notes of support and encouragement we have received from our friends," he said. "As for our future plans, we have deep roots in Indianapolis, where we have lived much of our lives, and will now spend the majority of our time here.
"We also plan to spend some time at our homes at Lake Wawasee and in Florida. We look forward to our continued involvement in a variety of community activities. For example, I look forward to having the time to increase my participation in the work of the Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence at Indiana University. Marianne plans to continue her long involvement with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and I look forward to supporting her in those activities."
Tobias earlier canceled a commencement address scheduled for today at the IU School of Law-Indianapolis.
He has maintained he did not have sex with the women. But that didn't stop "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart from pouncing on the incongruity of a former AIDS czar, who touted abstinence and openly opposed prostitution and sex trafficking, being caught in a sex scandal.
"There is nothing the administration can do that is not ironic," Stewart said.
Friends insist the jokes don't accurately reflect Tobias' character and say the businessman and philanthropist thrives on challenges and will bounce back.
"He's a very strong individual, and he's a got a very strong family," said former Indiana GOP Chairman Jim Kittle, who has known Tobias since college at IU. "Life goes on."
Tobias grew up in Remington, about 85 miles northwest of Indianapolis, the son of a banker and an elementary school teacher. In his book, "Put the Moose on the Table," he described his hometown as one where Ozzie and Harriett could well have lived next door and where values were instilled in him.
"I learned that when you make a commitment, you keep it. I learned that life's responsibilities include always trying to make things better as the world around you changes," he wrote.
After a stint in the Army, Tobias joined AT&T Corp., which he helped steer through the historic 1984 breakup of the Bell system.
He joined Lilly in 1993 and spent five years refocusing the drug company on its core pharmaceutical business, spinning off its medical devices unit and increasing its market value more than fivefold.
While at Lilly, he encouraged breast-feeding mothers to nurse at work and was named CEO of the Year in 1996 by Working Mother magazine. In 1997, he was recognized as the Norman Vincent Peale Humanitarian of the Year.
Just seven months into his tenure at Lilly, his first wife, Marilyn, committed suicide. He later spoke candidly about her death and the fact that Lilly's blockbuster antidepressant, Prozac, couldn't help her.
"He's an extraordinary human being," said William Enright, former senior pastor at Indianapolis' Second Presbyterian Church, who presided over the marriage of Tobias to Marianne, a classical pianist, in 1995.
Tobias retired from Lilly at 56 but stayed "full-time busy," Kittle said.
Tobias chaired the board of trustees at Duke as it embarked on a major capital campaign, served on the boards of other companies and of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Virginia, and established his own family foundation in Indianapolis.
He also helped Kittle rebuild the Indiana Republican Party, a process that culminated in 2004 when a former Lilly vice president under him, Mitch Daniels, was elected the state's first GOP governor in 16 years and the party won control of both houses of the General Assembly.
"His executive leadership abilities helped bring a lot of jobs and dollars to our state," said Daniels, Bush's former budget director.
By the time Daniels was elected, Tobias was in Washington as the AIDS coordinator.
Kittle noted that Tobias gave up a comfortable life to take the post, working 12-hour days, living initially in a small apartment in Washington and taking long flights to remote destinations.
"It's not like he needed a job," Kittle said.Now, boyhood pal Bill Biddle, Remington, and other friends are waiting for his next act.
"It's a shame to waste that talent," Biddle said.