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H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest (AL DÍA archives)
H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest (AL DÍA archives)

Gerry Lenfest: ‘The loss of a Philadelphia giant’

Gerry Lenfest, who saved the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News with funding from the Lenfest Institute for Journalism (among hundreds of other city…

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H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, the media magnate and local philanthropist who donated over $1.3 billion to initiatives across Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, died on Sunday at the age of 88.

Lenfest had been suffering from declining health, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, and is survived by his wife of over 60 years Marguerite, their three children, four grandchildren and a brother and sister. Lenfest will be remembered as “one of the greatest philanthropists the city has ever seen,” Comcast chairman and CEO Brian L. Roberts said to the Inquirer.

Lenfest, who sold his media company Lenfest Communications, Inc. to Comcast in 2000 for more than $1 billion, has used the profits from the sale to fund several educational and cultural projects, including the creation of the Lenfest Institute of Journalism, previously the Institute for Journalism in New Media. He acquired the Philadelphia Media Network (PMN) — publisher of the Inquirer and Daily News publications, as well as Philly.com — in 2016, which he then donated to the institute to keep the publications afloat through nonprofit donations.

He often said that funding PMN was his most important initiative, donating about $129 million through the institute as a “public trust” for the survival and sustainability of local watchdog journalism. The media ownership experiment, previously unseen in the current market, has prompted consistent donations from local venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and journalism industry leaders alike.

“There is nothing I could think of as important as keeping journalism alive in the city I love,” Lenfest said frequently to PMN publisher and CEO Terrance C.Z. Egger.

Lenfest was known apart from other Philadelphia philanthropists for his humility and dedicated approach to giving. He and Marguerite, who won the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy in October 2017, vowed to donate their entire fortune to a variety of projects, swooping in when the city desperately needed them. Before his passing, Lenfest witnessed the results of his endowment, rather than letting the Lenfest Foundation incrementally give away funds over a long period of time.

The list of organizations funded by Lenfest includes 1,100 varying initiatives, mostly in education and the arts, including $107.3 million to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, $63 million for the creation of the Museum of the American Revolution, $60 million to the Curtis Institute of Music and a project-saving $22.8 million to the Barnes Foundation.

“There is likely not an organization or charity in Philadelphia that didn't benefit from the Lenfest family's generosity in some way,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement.

“Today we mourn the loss of a Philadelphia giant who left an indelible mark on the City and the entire Philadelphia region,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement. “Gerry Lenfest’s business acumen was exceeded only by his philanthropic impact. His generous contributions transformed the lives of countless individuals and institutions.”

Not only did he dedicate the Lenfest fortune to strengthen Philadelphia, but he also inspired other philanthropists, and even the state, to match him on funds. Many who knew him and Marguerite said the couple’s primary goal in life was to do good for the city and state of Pennsylvania.

In a video for the Museum of the American Revolution, Lenfest said 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.”

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