Nov. 15 is National Philanthropy Day, a day when people around the country are invited to reflect and celebrate charitable acts — both financial gifts and acts of service for the benefit of others. I thought it only appropriate to acknowledge and celebrate the spirit of Gerry Lenfest on this day.
To many, Gerry was our region's greatest philanthropist of all time.
He was also my friend, my mentor, and my hero. I feel honored and blessed to have had the opportunity to know and learn from someone who left such an incredible impact on our city, our region, and this nation.
Gerry's wealth was only superseded by his desire to help people, and the latter is why I believe our bond was so strong. Our relationship was proof that no matter how different we are, or where we come from, we all have the potential to tap into the best of us. When we exhibit love for humanity, our ability to connect with people and improve our society has no limits. That is the definition of philanthropy.
It was because of Gerry's curiosity, kindness, and philanthropy that I was able to launch a business and follow in Gerry's footsteps to further gratify my life through philanthropy and volunteer service.
Gerry knew exactly what he was doing and what type of message he was sending to our region when he elevated me — someone with firsthand knowledge of the struggles of the working poor in our city — to position of board chair of the Lenfest Foundation. Aside from my role as a father, I will have no greater honor than serving as a flagbearer for Gerry's philanthropic interest.
Gerry's business and personal experiences taught him to always attempt to turn liabilities into assets, and I would remind him and our board that one of our biggest challenges in fulfilling our mission was to help transition our region's impoverished residents — who often can be viewed as liabilities — into assets. Gerry and I both saw this as an opportunity and not a threat. In fact, Gerry saw opportunity everywhere, even in people who didn't see opportunity in themselves.
Now that he is no longer with me as sounding board and mentor, I have shifted my focus on honoring and preserving his philanthropic legacy. Gerry may not physically be here to see me continue his important work, but I told him that one day I planned to be the greatest reflection of his philanthropic spirit and legacy. I am committed to making sure that Gerry's presence and impact is as large after his death as it was throughout his amazing life.
As we celebrate National Philanthropy Day, and formally enter the Season of Giving, I encourage the Philadelphia region's residents to take note of who Gerry was — not just the rare billionaire, but the preeminent values he represented in a life centered in love and care for others.
If you're thinking, "I already give, I serve on boards, I volunteer my time, what difference does a National Philanthropy Day make?" Gerry might just smile and say: "Even one more donation, volunteer hour, or act of kindness can make a world of difference in someone's life. What one more thing can we all do?"
Gerry taught us that a life committed to others was a life well-lived. He inspired us all to think bigger, do better, and give more. I am a better person,and we are a better community because of Gerry Lenfest.
Keith Leaphart is the founder of Philanthropos… The Giving Company. www.philanthropos.com