Fred Ikle did not exactly fit into the Washington DC scene. It wasn’t just that he had Swiss mannerisms, which he did. It was how he went about things.
For one thing, he actually answered and returned his phone calls. If you are important in Washington, this is something you are never supposed to do. Fred did it all the time. It was pretty clear why too. He really didn’t think of himself as important. Instead, he was interested in what he thought was important. To understand these issues better and to move them in the right direction, he thought conversation was important. So, he would not just return calls, but make time to talk, argue over an issue, and, sometimes, even change his mind. He also would initiate calls himself, which was always welcome because you knew he was all about what he was calling about and that you were lucky that he actually thought it made sense to talk to you about it.
Second and related, Fred regularly paid more attention to others than others often paid to themselves. I remember him repeatedly pushing me to become a member of several professional organizations. It seemed a pain to me but Fred was rather insistent. I half suspected that he thought that if I became a member, I and several others he was supporting, somehow were going to reform these outfits. But I knew better. He was simply concerned that I wasn’t attending to my own professional best interests. So he pushed and I became a member.
Finally, Fred didn’t mind having a worse reputation for being gruff than he deserved.
In fact, he had quite a sense of humor. For those that didn’t know him, he seemed Swiss. For those that did, he had a twinkle in his eye, a wry smile, a high-precision quip, and a quiet chortle for anything that was truly amusing. He also had his enthusiasms: Swimming, skiing, the design and decoration of his stunning home, his grandchildren. That most didn’t know these things about Fred made it all the more enjoyable for those of us who did. He was a public man with a private life.
As for his work, it ought to speak for itself. The best of it, which was most of it, had to do with protecting innocent lives and calling on us all to be more humane. This too is not exactly what security types are most preoccupied with in Washington. That Fred was, though, made perfect sense. He was, in a word, a mensch.