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  • Writer's picturePeter Miller
SGG #115: Walter Dickey (pt. 1): Carefully observing the world and figuring out how to best proceed

The Sport and the Growing Good podcast examines the stories of leaders who aim to improve lives and communities through in and through sports.

Walter Dickey recently retired from a long and distinguished professional life at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Among many other accomplishments and experiences, Walter was a tenured law professor; head of the Department of Corrections in Wisconsin; Chair of the Wisconsin athletic board; representative to NCAA and Big Ten Conference, and deputy athletic director. He’s published extensively and shaped his fields in many positive ways. But Walter is much more than these achievements or positions. He’s been a loyal son, brother, husband, father, friend, colleague, and mentor. He’s a man with broad experience and deep perspective. Walter says that he never spends much time thinking about his career or having been a leader, but in this three part series, we examine how this legendary UW leader has indeed lived an interesting and impactful life of leadership. In part one, Walter described the time that he and his wife Mary spent in Ghana, just after he’d completed law school. He highlighted some of the impacts of that time in their lives and how it contributed to his development as an observer of the world. Walter then described the importance of partnership in his journey and he provided insight into how one of his key partners, Professor Frank Remington, went about mentoring with humility and generosity. Over the years it’s been a tremendous honor and privilege for me to get to learn from Walter – so learning more about his story was a very special opportunity for me.

We discussed:

1. Deciding to go to Ghana – “the adventure of our lives” and the “turning point of our lives.”

2. Not being part of the “American Embassy crowd” in Ghana.

3. Living in Ghana: heat, a coup, grocery shopping, time, food, etc.

4. Being an observer.

5. “We were completely reliant on each other.”

6. Walter and Mary in Ghana: “We developed confidence in ourselves. And we developed trust and confidence in people around us.”

7. Returning to the U.S: No money, a Ford Pinto, a broadened perspective, and an uncertain future.

8. Why every American should take advantages of opportunities to live abroad.

9. “I’ve never thought of myself as having a career.”

10. Learning to live amid doubt and uncertainty in a condition of not knowing (Shakespeare).

11. Contrasting Oedipus & Socrates coming to a fork in the road. Socrates reflected and considered where the two roads might go.

12. Mary: “As the future rises up before us, we’ll figure it out.”

13. “Carefully observing the world and people around me. And then figuring out how to best proceed.”

14. The raw materials of leadership: observing and active imagination (and reading).

15. What Walter learned from reading as a youngster: the triumph of virtue after struggle. Idealism.

16. C.S. Lewis: reading teaches us that we’re not alone.

17. “Solving problems is fun. Spouting off theoretical things isn’t, at least to me.”

18. Working for UW Law Professor Frank Remington, who was “incredibly intelligent, observant, and humble.”

19. Diagnostic interviews: “a legal physical.”

20. Frank Remington as a mentor. “Humility was his hallmark.”


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