H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, who made a $1 billion fortune in the cable industry and gave almost all of it away, supporting schools, museums, journalism and the arts in Philadelphia and beyond, died Sunday August 5 2018 at the age of 88, Mr. Lenfest founded Lenfest Communications, in Wilmington, Del. By the time Lenfest sold Suburban to Comcast in 2000, it had 1.2 million subscribers.
Mr. Lenfest and his wife, Marguerite pledged $40-million to the American Revolution Center, at Valley Forge, in Wayne, Pa., for a building to house its collection, which has been exhibited at various historical sites. Mr. Lenfest is chairman of the organization’s Board of Directors.
The couple also pledged $30-million to Columbia University for a new arts complex, which will be named for the donors. The money will be paid over five years. Mr. Lenfest graduated from Columbia Law School in 1958 and serves on the university’s Board of Trustees.
The Lenfests also pledged $5-million to the Barnes Foundation, an art museum in Merion, Pa., and Philadelphia.
The Lenfests also gave to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Barnes Foundation, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts and Lenfest’s alma maters: Mercersburg Academy, Washington and Lee University and Columbia University. Wilson College, Marguerite’s alma mater, also received funds. Lenfest also gave $50 million to champion the new Museum of the American Revolution, which opened in April 2017 and, he felt, provided the “missing link” to tie together the city’s historic sites.
Their three children didn’t need the money — they were given stakes in Lenfest’s cable company when it wasn’t worth much — and Gerry Lenfest said he feared a permanent foundation would do more to perpetuate itself than help others.
At age 84, Lenfest unexpectedly became the sole owner of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and the website Philly.com. His business partner, Lewis Katz, had died in a plane crash in June 2014 just days after they paid $88 million to buy the company from rival co-owner George Norcross.
Harold FitzGerald “Gerry” Lenfest and his twin sister, Marie, were born in 1930 in Jacksonville, Florida, but soon moved to Scarsdale, New York, where their father worked in the shipping industry. He went to Flemington High School and graduated from Mercersburg Academy in south-central Pennsylvania.
He graduated from Washington and Lee with a degree in economics in 1953, served with the Navy in Norfolk, Virginia, and got his law degree from Columbia.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Lenfest is survived by his children, Diane Lenfest Myer, H. Chase Lenfest and Brook Lenfest; his sisters, Marie Schmitz and Lauren Lenfest; a brother, Robin; and four grandchildren.