Nancy Strauss Halbreich, the 23rd J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award winner, was taught early in life how to act towards others.
(ABOVE – FROM LEFT: SMU President Gerald Turner, J. Erik Jonsson Award winner Nancy Strauss Halbreich, and Maguire Center director Rita Kirk. Photo: Kim Leeson)
“I remember when I was 6, I was at the dinner table, and I began telling a wild tale,” she said. “I finished my story, and my mother looked me in the eye and said, ‘Nancy, you’re not smart enough to lie.’ So, for every day of my life, I try to remember that.”
Her mother was Annette Strauss, a former Dallas mayor whose advice stuck.
Halbreich told those at the recent award luncheon and fundraiser at SMU that she aims to live by three simple rules.
“Don’t lie, obviously. Just tell the truth,” she said. “Be unselfish, because the world is mainly composed of other people. And be kind. Kindness is everything in life, and we all have the power to be kind.”
For her work in and around SMU and Dallas, Halbreich received an award meant to honor those who “exemplify moral excellence,” SMU president Gerald Turner said.
“My mother looked me in the eye and said, ‘Nancy, you’re not smart enough to lie.’ So, every day of my life, I try to remember that.” -Nancy Strauss Halbreich
“The need for ethical leadership in 2019 is probably more so now than it has ever been before,” he said.
After getting her graduate degree at SMU, Halbreich began impacting Dallas with her special interest in the community’s cultural and educational scene.
She’s helped raise money for the Dallas Museum of Art, the Parkland Foundation, Southwestern Medical Foundation, The Hockaday School, the AT&T Performing Arts Center, and other beneficiaries.
She recently co-chaired the I Stand for Parkland Campaign to build the hospital’s new campus and also co-chaired the campaign for the Parkland Comprehensive Breast Center.
In true Halbreich fashion, the award luncheon where she was honored raised more than $273,000 for SMU’s Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility.
“She’s a phenomenal fundraiser. If you see her coming your way, run the other way,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said. “We all know about Nancy’s big heart, but her wisdom, her wit, and her drive make her who she is.
“Annette was such an important person in the history of Dallas, and I hope my children take note of any good I have done and apply it to their futures in the way Nancy did with her mother,” Rawlings said.
Ethics instructors at SMU aim to inspire their students to spend “10,000 hours of their lives” focusing on being morally sound. To Halbreich, completing that goal came naturally, said Caren Prothro, an SMU trustee.
“Nancy epitomizes the spirit of the award,” Prothro said. “No one cares more about others than Nancy. Her care is an all-inclusive concern and love for others that knows no boundaries and is in her DNA.”