H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, Philly Philanthropist and Journalism Champion, Dies at 88

The former cable mogul and his wife donated more than $1 billion to organizations, including Philly museums, educational and cultural institutions, and, of course, newspapers.


Philanthropist H.G. “Gerry” Lenfest. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Media mogul and philanthropist H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, who with his wife invested more than a billion dollars in news media, cultural institutions, universities and more in Philadelphia and elsewhere, died on Sunday. He was 88.

His name, of course, is all over the city: He and his wife, Marguerite, endowed city giants like the Museum of the American Revolution (which dedicated a building to the Lenfests, its biggest donors), the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, the Lenfest Scholars Program, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Barnes Foundation, the Curtis Institute of Music, the Lenfest Ocean Program, and more.

Lenfest, who started his career as a lawyer, founded Lenfest Communications Inc., a cable business that he ran with his wife. The company eventually became Suburban Cable, which was larger than Comcast in the Greater Philadelphia region until 1999. Comcast bought the company in 2000 in a deal that eventually netted the Lenfests more than a billion dollars.

Upon selling the company, Lenfest and his wife pledged to give away the majority of their fortune, eventually donating millions of dollars each to organizations like those listed above, as well as Columbia University, Mercersburg Academy, Natural Lands Trust, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Teach for America, Mastery Charter School, and Temple University.

Late in his life, Lenfest became embroiled in a tug of war over Interstate General Media, the company that used to own the Philadelphia InquirerDaily News and Philly.com. After the sudden and tragic death of Lenfest’s bidding partner and fellow philanthropist Lewis Katz in 2014, Lenfest somewhat unexpectedly became the sole owner of the media outlets.

In 2016, Lenfest tried something revolutionary: He donated the outlets’ new parent company, Philadelphia Media Network, to a nonprofit: the newly created Institute for Journalism in New Media (now the Lenfest Institute for Journalism). The move would allow the newspapers a new, more sustainable form of revenue in the form of grants and donations.

“I’ve given a lot of money away,” Lenfest told the Daily News in 2014. “But I can’t think of any cause that we support that’s more important than the support of the newspapers.”

Lenfest is survived by his wife, his three children, two sisters, a brother and four grandchildren.

Since his passing, dozens of journalists, officials, business partners, and community leaders have praised Lenfest as one of the city’s most important and influential citizens of all time. In a statement, Mayor Jim Kenney called Katz a “Philadelphia giant who left an indelible mark on the city and the entire Philadelphia region.”

“Gerry Lenfest’s business acumen was exceeded only by his philanthropic impact,” Kenney said. “His generous contributions transformed the lives of countless individuals and institutions … Gerry’s decision to return Philadelphia’s daily newspapers to local ownership brought stability to those publications at a time when journalism has never mattered more. Truly, Philadelphia was blessed to have Gerry Lenfest, and my thoughts are with his loved ones during this difficult time.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf also offered the Lenfest family condolences on Sunday.

“Gerry and his wife, Marguerite, took their incredible success and offered the full energy of their lives in service of their fellow citizens and the city and state that they loved,” Wolf said in a statement. “There is likely not an organization or charity in Philadelphia that didn’t benefit from the Lenfest family’s generosity in some way. From the arts to education to journalism, Gerry understood that the key to building a strong economy and community were strong civic institutions that enriched the lives of all citizens.”