LAFF Society


Franklin A. Thomas, 1934 to 2021


When Franklin A. Thomas died three days before Christmas, praise for a well-lived life of achievement and influence flowed from throughout a world he sought in many ways to make better.
The trajectory of that life has been carefully explored: child of immigrants from the Caribbean, a youth spent in near-poverty on the mean streets of Brooklyn, academic scholarship to Columbia University, an Ivy League basketball star, law school, private practice and public service, and 17 years as president of the Ford Foundation.
This special issue of The LAFF Society newsletter is a tribute to the man, his accomplishments and his legacy from many who worked with him. 
These are the words of people who recall the impact on their lives from the way he lived his, who attest to the bedrock integrity that underlay his ambition, commitment, perseverance and endurance.
They have taken with them from those encounters the indelible markings of his skills and insights to discuss how, in many ways, personal and professional, Frank Thomas’ example influenced their lives and their work at Ford and in varied endeavors since they left the Foundation.
Frank Thomas “always said we should leave the earth better than we found it”, writes one, and that ideal is evident in all that is written here.
These tributes are one small catalog of his accomplishments and impact, including re-imagining the Foundation (“just the sort of fresh air that the rarified Ford Foundation needed”), promoting human rights and social justice (“transformed the Ford Foundation from a technical assistance organization to a humanistic organization”), providing guidance to those he believed in (“mentored a whole generation of African-American men and women”), epitomizing leadership (“he was a quiet man, but when he spoke people listened”), motivating those who worked for him (“with confidence, trust and kindness”), believing firmly in risk-taking (it’s “what we do”), spare but undeniable in his praise (“I am not displeased with this,” he told one Foundation officer).
And they remember the personal side of the man: how he registered approval in meetings with simply a quiet smile, how he was affable and approachable in social gatherings and how, in those gatherings, he outshone everyone on the dance floor.
“Well,” he once said, “you learn things hanging out on street corners.”
LAFF Remembers Franklin Thomas: Co-Presidents’ Reflections by Suzanne Siskel and Betsy Campbell 
“A True Humanitarianby Shepard Forman
From the Class of ’92: “We worked for Frank” by Radhika Balakrishnan, Mahnaz Ispahani Bartos, Natalia Kanem, Anthony Romero and Marcia Smith



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