Ray Nasher has the stamina of a revolutionary, the staying power of a long-distance runner and the standards of Leonardo da Vinci. He insists on the best, and that is what the city will get when the Nasher Sculpture Center opens next month. It will be not only an extraordinary gift to Dallas but also the crown of a life quintessentially devoted to quality of the highest order.
Such success might not have been predicted for this only child of immigrants growing up in Boston, but the potential in fact was always there. Ray Nasher went to Boston Latin School, a source of great pride to him since there education was rigorous and demanding. Veni, vidi, vici. Those students came, saw and conquered, and that’s what was expected of them. Certainly it was expected of Mr. Nasher by his parents, who made sure he went regularly to museums, to concerts, that he imbibed every cultural advantage. If ever a man proved what is possible in America, it is Ray Nasher.
He emerged from his upbringing a democrat with a little and a big “d”. He never forgot who and what he was. He believed in the United States, but he believed also in the United Nations where he once served in the American delegation. He supported the U.N. in Dallas when such a stand was downright dangerous, and he once brought Eleanor Roosevelt home for dinner.
He was blessed with a natural ebullience that translated into a love of people of every dimension. He never limited himself to his own business sphere. His closest friends numbered educators, doctors, lawyers, writers and, naturally, artists. Politicians flocked to see him, eager for support. He enjoyed them all, and was generous to those who appealed to him, who shared his traditional view of the Democratic mission.
Ray Nasher has been a traditionalist more than might be understood, given his taste for the avant-garde in art. In building NorthPark he never succumbed to the delusion that afflicts some in real estate. He always respected the simple equation of tenants plus sales equal profits. And he worked with the patience of a martyr to persuade Will Caruth, not known as a genial negotiator, to make his homestead on Northwest Highway at Central available for development.
Mr. Nasher also was a traditional banker who never lost sight of the notion that loans must be repaid and therefore prudently examined beforehand. Hence his NorthPark National Bank survived the ravages of the late 1980s when many did not.
In art, however, Ray Nasher embraced the new, the reckless, the promise that might never be fulfilled. This enterprise, like all the others, was greatly aided by a brilliant marriage to a woman he called “a genius.” And she was. Patsy Nasher had an intuitive grasp of her times, and she knew how to make a system of the disparate influences impacting the world, instilling the images of our lives with a multitude of meanings.
It was she who predicted at a party in 1948 that Harry Truman would win the race for president when everybody else was betting on Tom Dewey. That caught the eye of young Ray Nasher who admired those who called the shot correctly. Together Patsy and Ray Nasher foresaw a number of critical waves in the years ahead and rode them to remarkable achievement.
When Patsy Nasher died, the rabbi at her funeral said that in her restless quest for art, she was searching actually for her soul. I believe that to be true. It helps to explain the power of the collection. A friend, Lillian Clark, said this of Mrs. Nasher, “The way she used her mind and her opportunity make her unforgettable.” And so she is.
So too is Ray Nasher who has about him an infectious flamboyance, something the writer Isak Dinesen called “divine swank.” By that she meant laughing in the face of fate. Though careful of his health, he never hesitates to order rack of lamb or a dessert designed to wreck the confidence of any cardiologist. Yet his weight stays steady, due no doubt to private discipline that’s never permitted to impede the pleasure of good food and good company.
Nothing will be permitted to impede the pleasure of the Nasher Sculpture Center either. Presiding over every detail, ever mindful of the people who will visit there, wanting for them a transcendent experience, Ray Nasher will leave nothing unconsidered where their comfort and edification are concerned. Security, you can be sure, will be omnipresent, but discreet as it is at his house or at NorthPark. Everything will be geared to the encounter between the individual and the work of art, between the world as it is and the world as it might be imagined.
And to think that it all began in Boston, in an immigrant household, all those years ago.