When Gian Carlo Menotti initially discussed Spoleto Festival USA with me in the early 1980s, the first name he mentioned was that of the Board Chair Ted Stern. Menotti, himself one of the most charming men I had ever met, marveled at Ted’s charm and how he had, somehow, managed to raise the money necessary for the early years of a very risky venture, Spoleto Festival USA. I learned more about Ted a few years later when I became general manager of the Festival in 1986. By that time, Ted had already stepped down as board chair but the signs of his tenure were everywhere, from the chair in my office—a cast-off from the College of Charleston—to my new boss, Charlie Way, the wonderful board chair when I joined the Festival. (Charlie frequently referred to Ted as his mentor, his godfather).
Still, Ted was something of an enigma to me at that time. Only in the last fifteen years or so, when Ted and I became very close friends, did I realize the extent of not only what Ted had accomplished for Spoleto Festival USA but also what he had accomplished for Charleston. Beyond Ted’s considerable charm, it was his deep understanding of people, his abiding passion for Charleston, and his profound commitment to do whatever he could to make his world a better place that made him the perfect chairman of a start-up venture. He recruited staff; he managed a board; he soothed wounded egos; and ultimately, he lent great credibility to the Festival: Because he was in charge, people knew the Festival would endure—and flourish.
Ted oversaw the first nine years of Spoleto Festival USA, the first two while he was the president of the College of Charleston and then subsequently as an almost full-time volunteer job. The Festival was not the only beneficiary of Ted’s boundless energy and expertise. His $34 million expansion of the college in the early 1970s was a major factor in the economic and physical renaissance of Charleston. He was one of the founders of Charleston’s Coastal Community Foundation, whose assets are now over $150 million. He headed the local and state United Way, the Coastal Carolina Council of the Boy Scouts of America, the Trident Forum for the Handicapped, and the Charleston Substance Abuse Commission. Ted served on the boards of the South Carolina Aquarium, Charleston Symphony, Spaulding Paolozzi Foundation, the Saul Alexander Foundation, South Carolina Blue Ribbon Commission on Education, Carolina Art Association, Historic Charleston Foundation, Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, Charleston Concert Association, and the Historic Charleston Foundation. Senator Fritz Hollings once said that everything Ted touched in Charleston blossomed; the Spoleto Festival USA that exists today is proof of that sentiment.Ted Stern passed away in January, three weeks after his 100th birthday, engaged with the Festival until the end. At its winter meeting a few weeks later, the board of Spoleto Festival USA unanimously voted to dedicate the 2013 Festival to Ted’s memory. He was a great, great man.