The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation is remembering the lives of two former trustees for their dedication to the mission of the Foundation — and each other.
Jim Stevens died June 30 in Watch Hill, R.I., and Robert LeBuhn died about a month later on Aug. 9 in Denver, Colo. The pair had in common a passion for paying it forward as successful investment managers who supported the arts and education through board service, and were friends over the two decades their terms on the Dodge Board overlapped, said Preston Pinkett III, board chairman.
[photo at top: Robert LeBuhn, left, and Jim Stevens]
“We lost two Dodge heroes,” Pinkett said of LeBuhn and Stevens. “They were two pals and they passed away together as if they were reuniting. The work they did to contribute to what we have done as a Foundation is outstanding.”
At a recent meeting, Dodge board and staff paid tribute to LeBuhn and Stevens by sharing stories, favorite jokes, and a poem in their honor.
“Their devotion to each other mirrored their beliefs and the values of the Foundation,” said Kim Elliman, a board member and immediate past board chair. “They talked to each other weekly and came to derive a lot of support from each other.”
LeBuhn joined the Dodge Board of Trustees in 1980 as the 10th member and first trustee not appointed by the court order establishing the Foundation. Elliman said LeBuhn helped transform Dodge in many ways, including diversifying its board and helping to evolve the Foundation’s approach to philanthropy in New Jersey.
“Rob believed that philanthropy should address the promise of people, the potential of human nature,” Elliman said. “He believed in providing general support, to permit the grantees to define priorities and practices. He believed that informed common-sense overruled specialization, from investments to arts education. He trafficked in a world where theory would be grounded in outcomes, not output.”
An Iowa native, LeBuhn kindled his interests in investment management and corporate policy at the Wharton School of Business where he earned an MBA after serving as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. He began his business career as a securities analyst with Cyrus J. Lawrence and Sons and became the president of Investor International in 1984, and was its chairman from 1992 to 1994.
Throughout his career, LeBuhn was on the boards of directors of airline, pharmaceutical, and insurance companies, and also served on the nonprofit boards of New Jersey Performing Arts Center, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, and Reach Out and Read, among others.
“A little known fact about LeBuhn,” said Finn Wentworth, a board member, “was that he was a member of U.S. Men’s basketball team when it won a gold medal at the 1955 Pan American Games in Mexico City.”
“He was a great athlete and musician,” Wentworth said. “He was filled with gratitude and gratefulness for the community.”
“They both brought to the board a tremendous amount of humanity and great leadership,” said Barbara Moran, vice chair of the board. “Rob was dedicated to Dodge and what we did. Jim always brought levity when we needed it most.”
Stevens was on the board from 1993 to 2015. He was a strong believer in the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival and in the power of poetry to transform lives, as well as an advocate for Newark’s revitalization.
A Massachusetts native, Stevens received an MBA from New York University and went on to work in banking and investment management, including a two-year stint in London at CitiBank. He rose to the ranks of president of Prudential in 1993.
Stevens was also on the board at pharmaceutical and communications companies, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and served on the nonprofit boards of the Deerfield Academy, New York Hall of Science, and The School of American Ballet.
At board meetings, Stevens would pull a “joke card” out of his pocket with short phrases of 35 different jokes, which he cherry-picked from to lighten the mood, Moran said.
Several of the jokes involved a talking dog, like the one that starts off with a sign for a talking dog for sale.
“Clem would always ask for that joke,” Moran said, referring to the late Clement Price, a beloved former member best known as a historian and champion for Newark.
Cynthia Evans, Dodge’s chief financial officer and former interim president, recalled Stevens’ humor and his constant advocacy for supporting New Jersey’s nonprofit sector.
“Jim brought tremendous joy and fun to our work,” Evans said. “He believed in Dodge’s mission and in the nonprofit sector to advance change and improve people’s lives.”
In the spirit of community and joy to honor LeBuhn and Stevens’ lives and contributions to Dodge and the nonprofit sector, Martin Farawell, Dodge Poetry program director, read My Deepest Condiments by Taylor Mali.
My Deepest Condiments
I send you my deepest condiments
was in no way what my old friend
meant to say or write or send
the night she penned a note to me
one week after my father died.
Not condolences, or sentiments,
she sent me her deepest condiments
instead, as if the dead have need
of relish, mustard, and ketchup
on the other side.
O, the word made me laugh
so hard out loud it hurt!
So wonderfully absurd,
and such a sweet relief
at a time when it seemed
only grief was allowed in
after my father’s death,
sweet and simple laughter,
which is nothing more than
breath from so far deep inside
it often brings up with it tears.
And so I laughed and laughed
until my sides were sore.
And later still, I even cried
a little more.