Posted on December 30, 2009
2009: People in the News
PND - 2008: Year in Review - People in the News
In a year that saw the near-collapse of the global economy and a series of extraordinary actions taken by governments and central banks to prevent such a collapse, it was no surprise that the president's economic team and members of Congress dominated the headlines. But it was a little-known money manager by the name of Bernard Madoff who came to symbolize, as much as anyone, the greed and hubris of a money culture gone awry.
The 70-year-old Madoff first made news in December 2008 when he confessed to running a $50 billion Ponzi scheme through his firm and was arrested by federal authorities on charges of securities fraud. Fallout from the case continued to make news well into the new year, however, with much of the damage borne by Jewish philanthropy. As Irving H. Picard, the court-appointed trustee charged with recovering assets for Madoff's victims, dug deep into the scandal, the list of defrauded organizations and investors grew — as did the list of those suspected of benefitting from Madoff's activities. The latter included Boston philanthropist Carl Shapiro, whom Picard accused of reaping $1 billion from Madoff's scheme over four decades, and longtime Madoff investor Jeffry M. Picower, whose foundation was one of the first to close its doors after the scandal broke and who maintained his innocence right up until his death of a heart attack in October.
Still, for organizations that lost money in the scheme, the year couldn't end soon enough. "It has been a very difficult year," said Richard Gordon, president of the American Jewish Congress, which saw a $21 million trust left to it by philanthropists Lillian and Martin Steinberg vanish in the fraud. "Like anything else, you go through anger and outrage, and over the year I think you work through some of the issues. But there is a tremendous sense of loss of what you could have done."
What remained to be done was on the minds of a number of foundation leaders who were either taking the reins from esteemed predecessors or getting ready to depart. In June, Robert Gallucci, dean of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, became president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, succeeding Jonathan Fanton, who retired after two five-year terms. Also in June, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation in Morristown, New Jersey, announced that its longtime president and CEO, David Grant, would step down within the year to return to Vermont to pursue interests in education and social issues. And a few months later, the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation announced that Douglas W. Nelson, one of the longest-serving presidents at a major U.S. foundation, planned to step down in April 2010 after twenty years at the foundation.
The year also was noteworthy for the remarkable philanthropists who left us. In March, Leonore Annenberg, widow of billionaire publisher and diplomat Walter H. Annenberg, died at the age of 91. Mrs. Annenberg had run the Pennsylvania-based Annenberg Foundation since the death of her husband in October 2002. August saw the passing of another matriarch, Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, whose work on behalf of the developmentally challenged was viewed by many as the most lasting of the Kennedy family's contributions to American society. Just a few weeks later, the nation paused and watched as the Kennedy family came together again to lay to rest Eunice Shriver's brother, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, whose fifty-year career in the U.S. Senate, passionate support for progressive causes, and fight-to-the-finish push for healthcare reform caused many to reflect, if only for a moment, on the better angels of our nature. And just before the end of the year, Ruth Lilly, the last surviving great-grandchild of pharmaceutical magnate Eli Lilly, died at the age of 94. Over the course of her lifetime, Lilly gave away an estimated $800 million to a variety of causes and organizations, many of them based in her hometown of Indianapolis. But it was her unexpected gift of $100 million to the Modern Poetry Association in 2002 — a gift that almost doubled in value after she made it — which revealed the reclusive heiress to be a poet at heart.
A year that most will not soon forget came to a sad close in December as 85-year-old Anthony Marshall, son of Brooke Astor, the legendary philanthropist and doyenne of New York society, was sentenced to one to three years in prison for having defrauded his ailing mother of tens of millions of dollars. The announcement of Marshall's sentence brought to a close a case that began in 2006 when Marshall's son Philip asked that his father be removed as Mrs. Astor's legal guardian. Mrs. Astor died in 2007 at the age of 105.
Foundations, Donors Help Nonprofits Hurt by Madoff Affair (1/08/09)
Annenberg Foundation Board Chair Leonore Annenberg Dies (3/13/09)
Shrinking Economy, Madoff Cast Pall Over Jewish Philanthropy (4/06/09)
Picower Foundation Sued by Trustee in Madoff Case (5/14/09)
Special Olympics Founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver Dies (8/12/09)
Brooke Astor's Son Found Guilty of Fraud (10/11/09)
Charities Hurt by Madoff Scandal Still Reeling One Year Later (12/14/09)
Philanthropist Ruth Lilly Dies at 94 (1/04/10)