By Charles Bernsen
After 30 years in the business world, Tony McLarty told his wife he was ready for a change. Their two children were grown and out on their own, he had survived a bout with cancer, and he was looking for something “that would bring joy to my life.”
Enter Uzi Yemin, chairman, president and CEO of Delek U.S. Holdings Inc., the Brentwood-based energy company where McLarty had worked for almost 15 years as vice president of community relations and government affairs. Yemin is also board president of the Akiva School, and he asked McLarty to consider taking a position at the Jewish day school in the wake of Head of School Lynn Heady’s resignation last spring for health reasons.
McLarty thought it was a great idea, and last month the Akiva board hired him as the school’s executive director, a new position that oversees administrative operations like human relations, budgeting, fundraising and community relations.
In a letter to Akiva families and supporters, the board said it envisions “a creative partnership” between McLarty and Akiva’s longtime principal, Daniella Pressner.
“Daniella will lead the school academically both in general and Jewish studies, while Tony will administer the school financially, strengthen our overall business operations, and lead the charge in the recruitment of new funds,” the letter said.
In terms of student recruitment, both Pressner and McLarty will work “side by side” with Admissions Director Christina Evans “as Akiva’s ambassadors to the Jewish community,” the letter said.
McLarty and his wife Patty have been married for 35 years. In addition to a son and a daughter, they have a grandchild.
The board’s letter described the 58-year-old McLarty as an affable, hard-working “mensch” who has served on the boards of the Children’s Hospital at TriStar Centennial and the American Cancer Society. And while he has no background in education, the board noted that he has extensive administrative and executive experience at Delek in human relations, risk management and government and community relations, including raising and distributing the company’s charitable donations – all of which will translate well to his duties at Akiva.
In an interview, McLarty said he was excited about the new position and recalled how he felt walking into the Akiva kindergarten class on the first day of school:
“It was a like a vacation,” he said. “It made me feel like I have a new purpose in life.”
Thought he is not Jewish, the 58-year-old McLarty was familiar with Akiva through his association with Yemin and has been to Israel numerous times, both on business and personal trips. He said he enthusiastically embraces the school’s mission to promote academic excellence in a pluralistic Jewish environment.
Of course, that doesn’t mean McLarty doesn’t have a slight Jewish learning curve.
Upon finding out the Akiva building is kosher, he went straight to Rabbi Saul Strosberg of Congregation Sherith Israel.
“I told him, ‘Help me understand just what this entails,”’ McLarty said.