Harry Rathbun: "One Earth, One Humanity, One Spirit"
STANFORD GRADUATE SCHOOL OF BUSINESS - Harry Rathbun, professor emeritus whose annual business law lecture on the meaning of life outgrew a classroom and filled Memorial Auditorium, died September 28, 1987, at the age of 93. After Rathbun retired from Stanford in 1959, he and his wife, Emilia, became founders of the Creative Initiative Foundation and the Beyond War movement that today has 15,000 members working to promote peaceful methods of resolving conflict.
Ratbun, who served on the faculties of both the Business School and the School of Law, was an outspoken proponent of the need for high moral standards in business decision making, arguing that individuals would waste time making borderline decisions if they lacked a strong sense of right and wrong.
He was named a great teacher by Stanford students in 1950 as part of a national survey conducted by Life magazine. Over the years his students included Dianne Feinstein, William Hewlett, David Packard, Carla Hills, Frank Church, Stewart Brand, Derek Bok, Willis Harman, and Sandra Day O'Connor.
Rathbun's end-of-the-semester lecture began after he read a letter in the Stanford Daily from a student expressing fear of going out into a world he did not understand. "My lecture that day was spontaneous," Rathbun later recalled. "It was an outpouring. I couldn't help myself. I had to tell those kids that the meaning of life was up to them, that no teacher and no school and nobody else could hand it to them like a diploma." He continued giving students similar advice for the next 25 years.
After retiring from active teaching, Rathbun lectured and conducted seminars discussiong his quest for spiritual truth. In 1968 the seminars led to the founding of the Creative Initiative Foundation, and the Rathbuns lectured throughout the United States on the theme "One Earth, One humanity, One spirit."
"Our message is that nuclear weapons have made war obsolete in competition between great powers," Rathbun said in an interview. "It is time to use the same intellect and resources that developed nuclear weapons to find a way to eradicate warfare among nations."
Creative Initiative: A Guide to Fulfillment, edited and written partially by Rathbun, became a key part of the movement. Originally, Creative Initiative focused on projects including energy conservation, toxic waste disposal, and teenage alcohol and drug abuse, but in the 1970s attention shifted to the threat of nuclear war.
He had retired as a leader by the time Creative Initiative grew into the Beyond War movement, but remained active, hiking through the Santa Cruz Mountains south of Stanford to attend seminars until he was into his 90s.
Born in Mitchell, S.D., Rathbun made his first speech about world peace as valedictorian of his 1911 graduating class from Mitchell High School. "We have before us a great battle of life, which will always exist for every man, even when peace rules the world," he said. "In this battle, let us allow ourselves the idealism for which we strive. Let us fight for success and let us not lay down our arms until we have attained it. And may we seek to bring out the best that is in us; seek to become worthy citizens not only of our own beloved country, but of the world."
Enrolling at Stanford in 1912, Rathbun earned a degree in mechanical engineering and then returned in 1919 to do graduate work in electrical engineering. After receiving a graduate degree in 1920, he went to work for a San Francisco radio receiver manufacturer, becoming vice president. But he eventually returned to Stanford, earning a law degree in 1929.
He became an associate professor at Stanford in 1930 and a full professor in 1937. In addition to his faculty duties, Rathbun earned a distinguished reputation as a labor arbitrator and mediator during the San Francisco Waterfront disputes that included a general strike. He served during World War II as a special mediation representative of the National War Labor Board.