Former Skillman, Flinn Foundations Leader Leonard Smith Was 'Determined,' 'Gentle'


Foundation: Skillman Foundation

credit: USACE on Flickr

When wealthy Detroit widow Rose Skillman died in 1983, her $180 million estate fell into Leonard Smith's lap.

Smith, who died last month at age 89, faced the daunting task of building a foundation with no staff while protecting and building the foundation's assets.

When Smith retired from the Detroit-based Rose Skillman Foundation in 1999, the foundation's assets had grown to $620 million, allowing it to make grants of more than $25 million a year to countless children's charities.

"He was an astonishing man, a pure soul," former Michigan congressman William Brodhead, who was among the first trustees of the Skillman Foundation, tells Reuters.

Smith, a lawyer, had no financial background, but he really learned about endowments.

One of his first decisions was to engage the Michigan Attorney General's Office to claw back about $2 million in excessive fees charged to the Skillman estate by a law firm and the trust department of a local bank, money he added to the Foundation's assets.

He also brought the Annie E.

Casey Foundation's Kids Count project to Michigan, focusing Skillman grants on breaking down the statewide Kids Count report by county.

The result was a new, state-of-the-art juvenile detention facility and a system

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