LAFF Remembers Franklin Thomas: Co-Presidents’ Reflections
By Suzanne Siskel and Betsy Campbell
We are honored to introduce this special memorial newsletter commemorating the life and work of Franklin A. Thomas.
We both joined the Ford Foundation toward the end of Frank’s tenure as its president, when the Foundation was a thriving, pathbreaking organization. As program officers in our first roles at Ford, we were challenged to be creative, pragmatic and supportive of the Foundation’s partners.
We joined the Foundation after the major reorganization that Frank led and, therefore, were heavily influenced by his vision of a grantmaking organization that concentrated on broad programs, and that believed in the power of partnerships among communities, non-profit organizations and policy makers to organize, build institutions and innovate in ways that could affect the lives and wellbeing of large groups of people in societies throughout the world.
While we did not work directly with Frank, we sought to live up to his expectations for excellence in all aspects of our work and to be worthy of the great privilege afforded us as stewards of some of the Foundation’s resources.
We learned from the insights he offered during officers’ meetings as we presented grants for approval, and felt great pride in sharing with grantee partners that the Foundation’s president had led a community organization himself.
We know that the LAFF Society emerged in response to Frank’s extensive reorganization of the Foundation, and hope that he would be touched by the camaraderie among its members, the shared sense of pride in the Foundation’s achievements, and the often-repeated phrase that working at the Ford Foundation was the most fulfilling job we’ve had in our careers.
As you will read in the poignant essays in this newsletter, our LAFF colleagues have identified many themes that resonate well with our memories of Frank and his leadership.
One of the most significant refrains is that Frank’s reorganization rescued the Foundation from financial collapse. Another, that he shifted its programmatic direction to an emphasis on human rights and social justice. Indeed, as a former trustee is quoted in one article, he transformed the Ford Foundation “from a technical assistance organization to a humanistic organization”.
Frank urged program staff to give grantees more independence and responsibility, believing that people closest to the problems facing their society or community were well placed to develop solutions. He also believed in taking risks in grant making, using the Foundation’s resources wisely while recognizing that philanthropy has the unique advantage of being able to test ways to affect positive social change and to learn from both success and failure.
Many tributes have, of course, commented on Frank’s contributions to the transformation of South Africa, which is a living legacy of his commitment to social justice and human rights.
Those of us who had the honor of working at the Foundation during his tenure appreciated his powerful influence, which stemmed from his quiet but firm approach to leadership.
The remembrances compiled in this special edition of the newsletter attest to the ways Frank inspired all who served at the Foundation during his tenure and to the broad and deep impact his leadership had on so many.
LAFF Remembers Franklin Thomas: Co-Presidents’ Reflections by Suzanne Siskel and Betsy Campbell
He Left the World a Better Place by Susan Berresford
A Man of “Vision, Tenacity and Dignity” by Barron “Buzz” Tenny
Celebrating the Remarkable Legacy of Franklin Thomas by Darren Walker
“A True Humanitarian” by Shepard Forman
From the Class of ’92: “We worked for Frank” by Radhika Balakrishnan, Mahnaz Ispahani Bartos, Natalia Kanem, Anthony Romero and Marcia Smith
Grantees: “Up Front and in the Center” by Charles Bailey
Taking Risks “Is What We Do” by Steven W. Lawry
A Leader With “Vision and Courage” by Barry D. Gaberman
Forging “New Paths on Multiple Fronts” by Judy Barsalou
“The Tallest Tree in Our Forest” by Akwasi Aidoo