Humility just seems to exude from him.
"I'm being made too much of today," former Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek said, standing in the cool shade of a tree in front of Brigham Young University's Abraham O. Smoot administration building Thursday.He was patiently waiting - escaping the sun's intense rays - to participate in BYU's 120th commencement exercises and academic procession.
Alongside him was a cheerful and smiling President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency of the LDS Church, who was conducting the summer graduation exercises.
"This is glorious; yet I feel I'm being overappreciated," the 84-year-old Kollek said.
He didn't even mind the 90-degree plus desert weather. "Summers in Jerusalem are similar to what you have here," the former mayor of one of the most volatile cities in the world said.
Kollek was in Provo to receive an honorary degree of Doctor of Public Service from BYU. Earlier in the week, he met with the LDS Church's First Presidency and "had lunch with an extraordinary number of fine elders."
BYU President Rex E. Lee bestowed the doctoral degree Thursday, "in recognition of his untiring and courageous service to his city, Jerusalem, to his country and to the world, and for his steadfast support of the university and the church's interests in Jerusalem."
The BYU honor marks Kollek's 19th honorary degree, as Kollek has been lauded by such institutions as Harvard, Princeton and Yale.
But when asked what his greatest accomplishments have been, Kollek didn't mention the academic accolades.
"You know, with the people in Jerusalem we have over 40 different Christian sects, the Jewish population and it is 25 percent Moslem," he said. "But do you know that it is a quiet city, much quieter than it use to be? The children are able to walk alone down the streets to get to school."
No pomp and circumstance. And what does he hope to best be remembered by? "Having brought people closer together, yes that's it, people with differing opinions and viewpoints," he said. "To minimize the suffering and conflict."
Early on, Kollek served the State of Israel as a philanthropist, establishing the Jerusalem Foundation in 1966 to create religious and ethnic harmony in Jerusalem. No easy task for a city that has been the site of conflict for generations as it tries to accommodate thousands of immigrants.
But few individuals in modern times have been more clearly identified with a single city than Kollek, who served as mayor for 28 years.
From his youth in Vienna, Kollek has been committed to the Zionist movement. He was named for movement founder Theodor Herzl and early in his career Kollek traveled to England, Czechoslovakia, Turkey and other countries throughout the world to try to negotiate the escape of Jews from Hitler.
In 1939 he persuaded the infamous Adolph Eichmann to release 3,000 Jewish youngsters from concentration camps. He later worked with American Jews in the United States to raise money and obtain arms in support of Israel's independence.
Elected mayor of Jerusalem in 1965, he championed not only the Jews, but also the Moslems and Christians. Kollek often offered crucial support for the LDS Church and BYU, particularly during the construction of the site for Near Eastern studies in the city, now known as the BYU Jerusalem Center.
"The LDS people and the Center have fulfilled everything they promised," he said. "It has become a part of the city, with its concert hall and large windows . . . you really must go and experience it."
Besides aesthetic and cultural contributions, the BYU Jerusalem Center is a place where thousands of Israelis, Palestinians and other visitors frequently attend scholarly conferences.
Kollek's help in getting the 8-year-old center built was recognized Thursday by President Lee.
"Without the efforts of Mayor Kollek, there would be no Jerusalem Center," Lee said. "In March of 1990 I visited Jerusalem. . . . He told me of the extraordinary opposition when the BYU Center was under construction and of his appreciation for the support these (LDS) Church and university leaders gave him by making frequent trips to meet the opposition face to face.
At times almost standing alone in support of the BYU project, Kollek was heard to say at one time, "We stood against intolerance, narrowness, obscurantism . . . and we won."
Upon receiving the honorary degree, the Marriott Center crowd of graduates and their families delivered a standing ovation for Kollek.
The statesman, politician and humanitarian appeared equally gracious, waving to the crowd in recognition.