Gerry Lenfest, Philadelphia Philanthropist and Arts Patron, Remembered

  • August 06, 2018 14:23

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R.A.D. Miller, Rooftops, New Hope, c. 1931. Oil on canvas. 20 x 24 in. James A. Michener Art Museum. Gift of Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest.
Gerry Lenfest
Museum of the American Revolution

H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, 88, passed away on Aug. 5, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer. A leading philanthropist and driver of civic causes and the arts for the city of Philadelphia and the surrounding region, Lenfest gave away over $1.3 billion in just two decades.

After building a fortune in cable television, Lenfest became a major supporter of cultural and arts organizations, museums, education, youth development, the environment, and news media, among other causes, alongside his wife, Marguerite. 

He served as chairman of the board of Philadelphia Museum of Art as well as other institutions, established the Lenfest Ocean Program, and gave large donations to around 1,100 organizations in total. He aimed to give away all his wealth during his lifetime.

“Gerry has had a huge impact on the renaissance and renewal of Philadelphia and all of its institutions,” said Philadelphia Museum of Art president and chief operating officer Gail Harrity to the Inquirer. “I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he has shaped Philadelphia for the future.”

Lenfest gave more than $63 million to help start up the Museum of the American Revolution, where he also served as Chairman of the Board, later Chairman Emeritus. The museum said in a statement: "...His impact on the quality of life in Philadelphia and our country can be measured not only by his extraordinary generosity, but by his inspired leadership." 

The important thing in life “is not how much money you’ve made, how many cars you have, how many yachts you have, but how you feel about yourself. And I feel pretty good,” said Lenfest in a video produced for the Museum of the American Revolution.

The Lenfests also helped shape the Michener Art Museum with a gift of 59 Pennsylvania Impressionist paintings and an endowment. The museum, located in Doylestown, Penn., is currently showing American Moderns: The Legacy of Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest with 27 early modern artworks donated by the couple.

Author and historian David McCullough said of Lenfest: “I think he was one of the most memorable and lovable men I’ve ever known. A devoted Philadelphian if ever there was one. His love of that city and its history, and his willingness to be not only generous with his philanthropy but to work hard to attain a worthy objective, is something we could all take a lesson from on how to go about life. He was a terrific man.”


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