Laura H. Foster, 71, of Philadelphia, a leader of the Please Touch Museum for more than two decades, died Thursday, July 25, of metastatic breast cancer at Penn Hospice at Rittenhouse.
Ms. Foster spent 22 years at the museum, starting in 1991 as director of development and marketing. On Nov. 11, 2009, she assumed the title of president and CEO, succeeding Nancy D. Kolb.
It was a smooth segue for Ms. Foster, who was already a member of the museum’s management team. Rather than looking outside the organization for a CEO, Kolb had prepared her for the role.
Ms. Foster was delighted with the challenge: “I like to have fun,” she was quoted in the Sept. 8, 2009, Inquirer as saying.
In 2008, the museum left its home on 21st Street in Center City for larger quarters in Fairmount Park. Ms. Foster and Kolb were instrumental in making the move a success.
“I’m really proud of what we created here,” Ms. Foster said. She was photographed for the article sitting in a giant chair outside the new quarters.
The museum was started in 1976 by Portia Sperr, a Montessori teacher, in a corner of the Academy of Natural Sciences. With funding from Dorrance H. “Dodo” Hamilton and the William Penn Foundation, it moved out and grew over the years.
“How fortunate Please Touch Museum was to have had her as a leader and partner in creating Philadelphia’s children’s museum,” said Patricia Wellenbach, the museum’s president and CEO. "She will be missed, but will always have a place in our history and our hearts.”
Ms. Foster was responsible for fostering the Great Friend to Kids Award, which recognizes those who have enriched the lives of children in the Philadelphia area. She also collaborated on projects with the Franklin Institute and the Rosenbach Museum and Library.
Before joining Please Touch, she was the executive director of the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association for 11 years.
After leaving Please Touch in 2013, she served as interim executive director of the Association of Children’s Museums. She retired in 2014.
Born in Chicago, Ms. Foster graduated from Francis W. Parker School there. She earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Barnard College in 1970 and a degree from the University of Baltimore School of Law in 1976. She practiced law briefly.
Ms. Foster was an associate professor in the University of the Arts Graduate Museum Studies Program from 2004 until earlier this year. “She loved teaching,” said her husband, Aaron Goldblatt.
A believer in civic volunteerism, she was chair of the board of the Wagner Free Institute of Science, a natural-history museum and learning center in Philadelphia dating back to the 1800s.
The institute posted a remembrance on its website. “Laura was known for her energy and vision, and as a warm, compassionate and sensitive leader,” the post said. “Throughout her career, she was a mentor and model for staff, volunteers, and board members."
Ms. Foster was a board member of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, the American Alliance of Museums, and the Association of Children’s Museums.
She was also a longtime supporter of the Women’s Medical Fund, a pro-choice organization, and mentored many women across the country who aspired to become museum professionals.
When not working or volunteering, Ms. Foster enjoyed spending time with her grandchildren, and reading crime fiction and the obituaries.
She married James Campbell, an architect. They had two children before divorcing. He survives.
She married Goldblatt, a museum exhibit designer, in 2000.
In addition to her husband, she is survived by a daughter, Sarah Cooper; a son, Oliver Campbell; a stepdaughter, Lillian Pontius-Goldblatt; two grandchildren; and a brother.
A memorial service will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12, at the Wagner Free Institute of Science, 1700 West Montgomery Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19121.