“It is with great sorrow that we inform you of the death of Leonore Annenberg Hon’85,” said Penn President Amy Gutmann and Trustee Chair James Riepe W’65 WG’67 in a written statement, shortly after the March 12 passing of the emeritus trustee, philanthropist, and founding member of the Joint Committee of the Trustees of the Annenberg School for Communication. As “one of Penn’s most committed and supportive friends” during her long association with her “adopted alma mater,” Mrs. Annenberg provided “extraordinary leadership and invaluable counsel,” Gutmann and Riepe added in their statement. “As individuals, we will miss her grace, determination, and most important, her friendship. As an institution, Penn will miss her profound dedication to education and citizenship, and her willingness to commit her resources to support those ideas.”
Mrs. Annenberg passed away in Rancho Mirage, California, at the age of 91, six and a half years after the death of her husband, Walter H. Annenberg W’31 Hon’66, the legendary philanthropist, ambassador, and former publisher [“Obituaries,” Nov|Dec 2002]. Together, they gave the University a succession of extraordinary gifts worth hundreds of millions of dollars: founding and permanently endowing the Annenberg School for Communication and the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC); funding numerous programs, including the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics, the Institute for Adolescent Risk Communication, and the Annenberg Institute for the Study of Democratic Institutions and Government; and endowing numerous professorships across the University. The full impact of her generosity, said Gutmann, is “beyond measure.”
“What the Annenbergs provided for Penn was a rare combination of generosity and vision,” noted Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the APPC, former dean of the Annenberg School, program director of the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands, and spokeswoman for the Annenberg family after Mrs. Annenberg’s death. “They didn’t simply create an outstanding school and policy center; they invested heavily in the well-being of the other schools at Penn. They loved the University, and their affection was reciprocated.”
“For the past 50 years the Annenberg School for Communication has benefitted from the generosity of both Mrs. Annenberg and her late husband,” said Michael Delli Carpini C’75 G’75, the Walter H. Annenberg Dean of the school. “Generations of communication scholars and practitioners, whether they had the pleasure of meeting her or not, are where they are in part due to the Annenbergs’ generosity and vision.”
On the Annenberg School’s website (www.asc.upenn.edu/ Leonore-Annenberg/), dozens of past and present students left messages of gratitude, both for the generous financial assistance many received and for the personal interest the couple took in their lives.
“The Annenbergs could not have been nicer to us,” wrote Margot F. Horwitz CW’58 ASC’62. “They hosted marvelous parties and seemed truly interested in our lives and career plans. More important, they were incredibly genuine in their generosity and accessibility.” Years after graduating, Horwitz contacted Mrs. Annenberg about an event at an historic house in Philadelphia. “She was not only helpful in agreeing to open the house,” Horwitz recalled, “but attended the event and was delightful to my husband and baby daughter.”
“The legacy Mrs. Annenberg leaves is vast and important but also deeply felt by the community of scholars and students she nurtured,” wrote Tom Newman ASC’75. “Those of us who remember her grace and intelligence are fortunate indeed for that personal contact. Those of us whose minds were cultivated through her commitment and generosity owe a debt that can only be repaid in small measure by acts consistent with her vision.”
While Mrs. Annenberg’s talents as a hostess and charitable benefactor are legendary (she served as the nation’s Chief of Protocol during the Reagan administration), what survives in the form of a legacy at Penn is the Annenberg School and the APPC, said Jamieson. “And that’s a major contribution to this institution, because those are two organizations that are very strong. They have a national identity, and they make important social contributions.”
Mrs. Annenberg’s last major gift to the University was to fund and permanently endow a new building for the APPC, scheduled to open in June and located on the site of the old Hillel building on 36th Street, just east of the Annenberg School. She had also developed two areas of programming that were distinctly hers, Jamieson noted: the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics, geared toward high-school students; and the Adolescent Mental Health Initiative [“Youth, Interrupted,” Sept|Oct 2007].
But much of Mrs. Annenberg’s work represented a “conscious effort to protect the communication effort that [she and Walter] jointly founded at Penn,” especially the gifts ensuring that the school and the APPC would be permanently endowed, said Jamieson. “That is a remarkable act of generosity. I mean, it would have been easy for them to say, ‘We’ve given you an unprecedented amount of security—now fend for yourself.’ And instead, she stepped in with a new building, and a deferred-maintenance account to protect it”—and then provided another $20 million endowment for the civics institute.
“He believed and she did as well that communication is an extraordinarily powerful force for good or for evil,” Jamieson added. “And they wanted a school that would increase the likelihood that it would be used for good.”—S.H.