Description of Bob Ball and Wilbur Cohen, by Theodore Marmor:
In a seminal article in 1987, Yale political scientist Theodore Marmor recounted the careers of Bob Ball and Wilbur Cohen, using them as case studies in effective government management. In the article Marmor give vivid portraits of the two men:
"Wilbur Cohen, the son of a variety store owner, grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and after public high school graduated from the University of Wisconsin. Robert Ball, the son of a Methodist minister, grew up on the East Coast and received his B.A. from Wesleyan, the small liberal arts college in Middletown, Connecticut, where he studied English and economics. Both men began their government service with a common dedication to the principles of social insurance and rose during the subsequent decades to become team champions of this version of social welfare policy.
Comparably gifted and regularly working as a team for over forty years, Ball and Cohen could hardly be more different physically. Ball, six feet one inch, is a white-haired, broad-shouldered man whose gravity is lightened by a readily available twinkle and chuckle. He wears black-rimmed, prominent glasses that he takes on and off when shifting from speaking to reading. His expression is frequently softened by his easy smile and firm but unaggressive manner. At meetings he leans forward
intently in his seat and, with a formalism that seems now a little old-fashioned, begins to speak in a manner instilled by years of testifying before Congress: 'Mr. Chairman, let me begin by stating that I am in full agreement with the general thrust of Mr. X's remarks. But I would like, if I may, to bring up three somewhat technical points about social security . . . .' Ball could have posed for pictures of executive presence in Fortune during the 1950s and 1960s. But in Bob Ball's case, the imagery captures much of the man, not a myth. Ball did indeed come to stand for the SSA and its reputation for honest, competent, reliable service to Americans, who were regarded as clients, not supplicants.
Nearly half a century of partnership between Cohen and Ball has done little to erase the marked differences between the two. If Ball was the tight end of the SSA--steady, determined, a pillar of strength but working within a clear, circumscribed field of action--Cohen was the energetic quarterback of social security in the wider world of social policy. He ranged over issues of poverty and welfare, education and social services, policy making and legislation. Never the line administrator of a large operational unit in government, Cohen nonetheless respected the difficulties and importance of detail, determination, and clear purpose in public administration. He is a product of Wisconsin's progressive flagship, the University of Wisconsin at Madison. A nimble badger of a man, Cohen is short, with a small nose that holds the unobtrusive glasses he uses for reading. His lively face is round, with wisps of grey hair now astride a balding top. Cohen is both elf-like and elusive. He scans his immediate environment with the attentiveness of the top student he was in high school and college, a bit like the scholarship kid who knows he will have to please. A merchant's son, Cohen has all the willingness to attend to customers we associate with the best of that livelihood.
Ball, the minister's son, has just the slightest hint of deep reserve, while Cohen's bearing suggests a negotiator's sensitivity behind the smile, the readiness to bargain, and the ready, well-thought-out answers he has to offer. Social security has had both men for decades of advocacy. If someone was needed to speak before the American Bankers Association, Ball would have been the right choice to win the bankers' confidence, if not their agreement with his policies. If a deal had to be struck between the White House and HEW, Cohen would have been the first choice. And if the House Ways and Means Committee wanted to know what was going on in social security, both would be called, with easy exchange between the two.
Dual guardians of social security, the two symbolized the ethnic diversity of American life. Ball, the WASP of the social gospel, loves badminton and the quiet of his island summer retreat in New Hampshire. Cohen, the son of Milwaukee's Jewish community, likes the library more than the playing courts. And when he moves about in the countryside in white tennis shoes and black socks, the observer knows he reads the Washington Post much more often than Field and Stream."
Excerpt from: "Entrepreneurship in Public Management: Wilbur Cohen and Robert Ball," by Theodore Marmor. In Leadership and Innovation: A Biographical Perspective on Entrepreneurs in Government. Edited by Jameson W. Doig and Erwin C. Hargrove. Johns Hopkins University Press. 1987. Pgs. 251-253.