A statement on the death of Ambassador Walter Annenberg by Vartan Gregorian
Ambassador Walter Annenberg was truly one of the most inspiring and visionary philanthropists I’ve had the honor of knowing and serving. He was a man of few words and many great deeds. He was a man of passion and a man of compassion. And he was a man of integrity, with many convictions. Two things he used to say capture a sense of his character: “My country has been very good to me. I must be good to my country;” and “I have always tried to support things that were essential, and few things are as essential as education.”
Annenberg always backed up his convictions with a generosity that put him in a league with John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. It’s unlikely we’ll ever know the full extent of Annenberg’s philanthropy because he did not seek publicity for his gifts and gave many anonymously. A mere summary of his philanthropy in a single period--between 1984 and 1998--fills an 88-page document with $2 billion worth of gifts. It records his support for five American presidential libraries as well as the Winston Churchill Archives. He supported community organizations, ranging from the American Red Cross to the Philadelphia Zoo. He contributed to medicine, from the Albert Einstein Medical Center to the Weizmann Institute of Science. He supported arts and culture, from the Academy of Music to the U.S. Holocaust Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art--which received his art collection, valued at $1 billion. And he supported education in a big way. He invested in dozens of colleges and universities, ranging from small, historically black colleges to Ivy League universities. And in 1993, he made the largest single gift ever made to public education--$500 million, which was matched by others. He endowed the Annenberg Foundation with $1 billion because he believed that generosity spawns more generosity and philanthropy spawns more philanthropy. He saw it as mankind’s best hope. When he heard that Oseola McCarty, an 87-year-old laundress, had given her life savings of $150,0000 to the University of Mississippi for scholarships, Annenberg pounded his desk and exclaimed: “That’s the American spirit!!”
That, too, was Annenberg's spirit. A great man has died, but his spirit and good works live on.