When a person’s impact on the world feels as big as the world, one takes notice. That happened at the Academy of Music on October 17, 2018 with about 2000 people in the audience listening to 14 speakers and the 110 piece Curtis Institute Orchestra. All there to celebrate the life of H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, a man who changed lives, moved mountains, built cultural institutions, and gave back in ways that are beyond measure. If you know who Gerry was, then you know. If you don’t, please take some time to look up Gerry Lenfest. To say this man was an inspiration doesn’t begin to convey the depth of his impact, from the city of Philadelphia to the vast oceans of the world. I never had the honor of meeting Gerry, but witnessing the three hour + tribute was a brief and amazing glimpse into a life that was well lived and will live on in all the many MANY legacies he leaves behind. There is no doubt that each of those legacies will grow, nurtured by the stewards eagerly tasked with continuing the Lenfest vision and work.
Peppered throughout the speeches were repeated references to what decidedly was Gerry’s greatest gift of all — keeping the free press alive. He did this in multiple ways, most notably by purchasing the Philadelphia Inquirer, creating the non-profit Lenfest Institute for Journalismand generously (and brilliantly) donating the newspaper back to it. As a writer, this one hit home. I almost always have a journal on me and I like to take notes at certain events. To capture a thought, some words on a page that you didn’t know would happen till they happened. I thought there might be a great quote or two, and didn’t want to rely on the recap later on. I figured I’d write a social media post about the celebration and go on my merry way. But something else happened. I couldn’t stop taking notes, as speaker after speaker shared profound thoughts and stories. Sure, that’s easy to do at a service honoring a passing. But this was different. This was impactful in a different way; each speech was like a jumpstart to launch the stewardSHIP and set sail for everyone in the room to guide their own ship of giving back. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a life mission of making a difference. Hearing all the tributes to Gerry is a good reminder that everyone can all do something to help others and make this world a better place. Being at the service for Gerry Lenfest makes me want to do more. Writing about it is a place to start, in hopes that it reaches even one person who will take the baton and carry on.
Impact. Caring. Mentorship. Legacy.
Gerry’s son Chase Lenfest spoke warmly about his parents and how his mom Marguerite was the yin to Gerry’s yang. Chase talked about the duality of his father and the great sea explorer Ernest Shackleton. I was completely entranced by Shackleton 20 years ago when first learning of his treacherous Endurance expedition and how he treated his crew for the greatest chance of survival. Chase said both his father and Shackleton knew how and when to be tough, as well as how and when to be gentle. He then added that both never thought they were better than others; something we can all carry with us. If the measure of a man is how others see him, Gerry’s life is immeasurable in its infinity…
Gerry flew coach. He read palms. He loved sailing. He was a navy officer. He was humble. He grew up in Lambertville, NJ. He loved Willie Nelson. He loved wine (even the under $10.00 bottle). He took the regional train when he could’ve taken the Acela. And until last year, Gerry and Marguerite lived in the same house they bought in 1965 and raised their three children in, which didn’t have central air until recently. He made a fortune in the cable industry, and then he and Marguerite committed to giving it away which they did to the tune of 1.3 billion (yes, with a “b”) dollars to over 1000 institutions of culture, media, and education, plus funds to conserve Canadian forests and world oceans. Most of all, Gerry treated everyone with respect, whether they had millions or pennies. That speaks volumes.
These are just some of the quotes and takeaways from the day…
Terry Egger, President & CEO — Philadelphia Media Network, PBC talked about “that special Gerry moment…” and when Gerry said to him, “There’s nothing more important than keeping journalism alive in the city I love. Will you help?”
Jim Friedlich (Executive Director & CEO, The Lenfest Institute for Journalism) reminisced about the time Gerry said to him, “Where better than Philadelphia to invent the future of a free press?”
“His very presence in the room challenged us to think about the future.” ~ Roberto Diaz, President & CEO, Curtis Institute of Music
“Gerry’s true gift of giving was giving credit for other’s success.” ~ Bob Lawrence, CEO & President, Lenfest Media Group
“His most important calling, and perhaps of his legacy is what he’s done to support the freedom of the press in the city and in this country. Thanks to Gerry and the Lenfest Institute of Journalism, our liberty is not and will not be lost.” ~ Brian Roberts, Chairman & CEO, Comcast Corporation
“Gerry knew that art could change lives.” (And a sailing reference….) “He understood very well how to navigate the wind.” ~ Gail Harrity, President & COO, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Former Pennsylvania Governor & Former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell talked about the Youth Giving Strategy thanks to Gerry Lenfest, providing 80 grants totaling 36 million dollars to start programs in the city like YouthBuild and TechGirls.
Rebecca Rimel, President & CEO, Pew Charitable Trusts talked about five pillars Gerry embodied:
· That it wasn’t enough to just set goals
· To be guided by old visions and embraced by new ideas
· Always respect others, no matter their station in life
· Accept praise and humor
· Embrace in life whatever gives you joy
“He used his great wealth and philanthropy to empower others.”
“A life committed to others is a life well lived.”
“Think bigger, do better, and give more.”
~ Dr. Keith Leaphart, Chairman, The Lenfest Foundation
“His love for the ocean was uninterrupted.”
“Gerry taught me that we all have the ability to changes someone’s life.”
“We all have the ability to be philanthropic with our hearts and our souls.”
~ Andy Tyska, President — Bristol Marine
I’m glad I took notes today. Thank you Gerry.