Trustee and philanthropist H.F. ‘Gerry’ Lenfest has died

Lenfest, 88, used money from the sale of his communications company to donate to Philadelphia museums, charities and schools.

H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest (left) speaks to trustees, staff and faculty alongside his wife Marguerite at the Lenfest Circle dedication ceremony in October 2017. | SYDNEY SCHAEFER / FILE PHOTO

UPDATE at 5:38 p.m.

H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, a Temple University trustee, media magnate and local philanthropist died Sunday at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center in University City after suffering from months of declining health, the Inquirer reported.

Lenfest, 88, was best known for using more than $1 billion in profits from the sale of his company, Lenfest Communications Inc., to Comcast in 2000 to start a spree of donations to educational and cultural institutions around the city, where he held many chair positions.

In 2016, Lenfest acquired control of the Philadelphia Media Network, which includes the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News. To ensure the profitability of the papers, he created the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, pioneering a non-profit model of producing journalism, which allowed the Institute to accept tax-deductible donations.

“Gerry Lenfest was one of the most remarkable, generous and thoughtful human beings I’ve ever known,” said David Boardman, dean of the Klein College of Media and Communication and chairman of the Lenfest Institute. “He understood that public-service journalism is essential to our democracy and to healthy communities, and he dedicated himself to preserving it in the digital age.”

“His vision is inspiring journalists both here in Philadelphia and across the nation,” he added.

Lenfest was awarded with an honorary degree from the university in 2002 and appointed to the Board of Trustees in 2013. His generosity can be seen across campus through recent renovations to the Temple Performing Arts Center and Klein College.

“I have rarely seen anyone who was so driven by a desire to help others,” Board chairman Patrick O’Connor said in a statement to The Temple News. “Gerry was a thoughtful man whose passion for the well-being of others drove his life. He and his wife, Marguerite, have made a significant difference at the university and in this city.”

In May 2017, the Board of Trustees announced the Bell Tower, an iconic landmark and gathering place on Main Campus, would undergo significant renovations and be named Lenfest Circle to honor the trustee’s commitment to the university.

Over the years, Lenfest donated liberally to scholarship and athletic funds.

In December 2013, when departmental cuts led the trustees to end several athletic programs, Lenfest intervened, saving Temple’s rowing teams with a $3 million donation to renovate their boathouse and retain funding.

We would not be here today if not for the mind-numbing generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Lenfest,” crew coach Brian Perkins said. “He saved the men’s and women’s rowing teams on a whim, then continued to support us.”

All Lenfest asked in return for his multi-million dollar donation was for the team “to win,” Perkins added.

To many who knew Lenfest, this was his style. The trustee, often alongside his wife Marguerite Lenfest, sought out worthwhile causes, some he knew little about, and donated from his fortune, asking little in return.

Together, Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest contributed more than $1 billion to museums, schools and charities throughout Philadelphia.

“Gerry’s impact will be felt throughout Temple for generations to come,” President Richard Englert said. “We offer our deepest sympathies to Marguerite, the Lenfest family, everyone at the Lenfest Foundation, and all those whose life was touched by this generous man. All of us at Temple University mourn his passing.”

Lenfest is survived by his wife, sister, three children and four grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are not finalized.

UPDATE: This story was updated to include statements from Board of Trustees Chairman Patrick O’Connor and University President Richard Englert.

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