It is with deep sadness that I report the passing of Lilo Leeds on Sunday, September 4. A strong and unrelenting advocate for children, Lilo cofounded the Alliance for Excellent Education (the Alliance) in 2001 with her husband Gerard “Gerry” Leeds, who passed away in 2014.
Like her husband, Lilo was a committed and passionate advocate for traditionally underserved children. In addition to the Alliance, Lilo and Gerry founded the Institute for Student Achievement, Schott Foundation for Public Education, and other initiatives that advocate for students of color, students from low-income families, and other traditionally underserved children.
In 1971, Gerry and Lilo launched CMP Media, Inc. and turned it into a leader in providing information and internet services for high-tech industries. The company was well-known for its socially responsible policies, especially its pioneering onsite day care center. In 1988, Gerry and Lilo turned the management of the company over to their children and devoted their attention to giving back to the country that had been very good to them, principally by working to improve the education of children in America.
In 1990, the couple launched the Institute for Student Achievement (ISA), which partners with schools and districts to transform public high schools so that students who are traditionally underserved and underperforming graduate prepared for success in college. In 1991, Gerry and Lilo also created the Caroline and Sigmund Schott Foundation, which focuses on early childhood education and care, gender equity, and education financing issues.
In an effort to reach more at-risk students nationwide, Gerry and Lilo founded the Alliance in 2001 and charged it with making an excellent education the right of every young person in the United States and ensuring that this right becomes national policy. Specifically, the Alliance focuses on America’s most at-risk secondary school students—those in the lowest achievement quartile—who are most likely to leave school without a high school diploma or graduate unprepared for a productive future. At the time of its founding, few, if any, national policy organizations were focused on middle and high school students.
This committed couple were recipients of many civic awards, including Socially Responsible Entrepreneurs of the Year, the Long Island Association Humanitarian Award, and Outstanding Philanthropists of the year for the Long Island chapter of the National Society of Fund Raising Executives. The Leeds were cited by Newsday in its report on “100 Who Shaped a Century,” and were among the ten honorees selected by WCBS-TV for recognition in its annual “Fulfilling the Dream” celebration of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Lilo and Gerry represented the best of activist philanthropy, taking the right actions for only the best reasons. Lilo constantly asked what progress the Alliance was making, and pushed us to be bolder on behalf of the children who needed help. While a powerful advocate for children has been stilled, her voice and impact continue in many organizations, activities, and through the work of countless individuals touched by this amazing person.
Lilo was a very unassuming person who deflected public attention in favor of ensuring the work advancing her causes was effective. At the Alliance, we mourn the passing of someone so vital. At the same time, we know Lilo would want her passing to be cause for even greater dedication for the important causes she initiated, supported, and tirelessly advocated for.
Bob Wise is the former president of All4Ed and former governor of West Virginia.