Eva Haller

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eva1“We started our business and we made an awful lot of money. The awful lot of money was exactly a million dollars. So we decided that that was terrific; we closed shop and offered UNICEF our services.” The couple traveled to Cambodia, the Philippines, Thailand, Australia, and Hong Kong, teaching in the field of communication.

“The whole trip was a dream,” she recalls. “Everything made a big impact on me. Going to Cambodia and being in Angkor Wat, meeting Prince Sihanouk, and meeting all the rulers in Thailand. Being in the palace with Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. That whole period of getting to know the opposition leaders and trying to work with them against the Marcoses was a very heady and powerful time for two New Yorkers.”

They came back to New York (“because apparently a million dollars is sort of like, not exactly something that lasts as long as we thought it would!” she jokes), and began establishing businesses in Australia and Europe, as well as reopening Eva’s office in the US. It was at this time that they began to pursue philanthropy.

“We were a magical and very successful couple and had some very amazing moments in life,” she says,  “Mostly in the civil rights movement, in the feminist movement.”

We Become History

Group shot
Eva and Yoel received Honorary Doctor of Letters degrees from the Glasgow Caledonia University.

ONE OF THOSE MOMENTS WAS IN 1965. In his speech at the end of the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Dr. Martin Luther King stated, “Selma, Alabama, became a shining moment in the conscience of man. If the worst in American life lurked in its dark streets, the best of American instincts arose passionately from across the nation to overcome it.” The country had recently witnessed on television the brutality of the police on Bloody Sunday, with their use of dogs and clubs. There had been the murders of Jimmie Lee Jackson and James Reeb.

Eva was one of the 25,000 who acted on the “best of American instincts.” She went to Selma to take part in the march that led to the signing of the Voting Rights Act, the landmark legislation which most effectively enforced the prohibition of discrimination in voting.

Eva has a personal connection to Dr. King: “You know, Martin Luther King III is a friend of mine. He was 9 years old when his father did the Montgomery march. And I asked him a few months ago when I was talking with him, ‘Where were you?’ And he said ‘My parents didn’t take me to the march, they were fearful for me, so I didn’t go.’ But I took my 15-year old son, and I didn’t realize how scared I should be, until we got there, and the Sheriffs with their big sticks and the German Shepherds on the leash. It was scary.” Shortly after the march, the Klu Klux Klan assassinated Viola Liozza, a housewife and activist from Detroit who had been taking marchers back from Selma to Montgomery.

Taking part in history has real risks, as well as consequences. But it can also lead to moments of a deep connection with our humanity, which come once in a lifetime: “When the march was over, and we had to get on a plane…we needed to get into a car to get us to the airport,” she recalls, “And I did not flag down a car that had a white person driving it. I needed a soul mate. And I knew that the only soul mates I could really trust at that moment , in that city, in the mood of that city, was to find a black man in a car, or a black woman, and to ask for a ride. And that was a very interesting moment because we flew to New York late at night and the next morning when I saw the first black person on the street I wanted to hug him. I had so much respect and love inside of me at that moment that I forgot that I was white. And maybe I never even thought of it before or after, but at that moment I needed to hug somebody who was black.”

Her son, now 64, also values having taken part in the Selma march, she says, adding “I think that if I could ever encourage people what to do when they become parents is expose your kids to experiences that they can feel enriches their lives. That they can then transmit. Because we become history. And when I talk today with Martin Luther King III, and I talk about our being there, it has given us such a bond. Because I was with his parents when he wasn’t there. And I was there with my son.”

A Mentor

Eva accepting the Excellence in Mentoring Award at the Forbes' Power Redefined Women's Summit.
Eva accepting the Excellence in Mentoring Award at the Forbes’ Power Redefined Women’s Summit.

I ASK EVA ABOUT HER PATH to becoming a leader, which reveals the importance she places on what she calls “the sense of the mass”, of people working together: “Leadership is a very interesting phenomenon. I don’t know if that is a conscious decision, ever. I think partly leadership has to do with seeing things that maybe somebody else doesn’t see at that moment. I never think of myself as a leader. A leader is somebody who is somewhat apart from others. So under my own terms, I’m not a leader. I’m a mentor.”

Eva was given a standing ovation when she accepted the Inaugural Excellence in Mentoring Award at the 2013 Forbes Women’s Summit. “If I ever have a tombstone–which I don’t really intend to have,” she says drolly, “I would want it to say she mentored well–because she was mentored well.”

As a mentor, she likes to get involved when ideas are nascent.  “I love to get involved in projects that are not yet formed,” she says, “I love to incubate. I love to envision what an organization can be when it gets started or when it grows. And how can we together cooperate with other human beings to make things happen.”