Dedication of the Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot Conversation Room, Remarks by Jonathan Fanton
June 16, 2009 | Speech

We gather to celebrate our friend and former chair Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot who was a Trustee of MacArthur for half of its existence.

It is my privilege to open this afternoon to be followed by former Chair Elizabeth McCormack and our current Chair, Bob Denham. Elizabeth was also Chair of the Nominating Committee when Sara was chosen to join the Board in 1991 and then again in 2002 when Sara was elected Chair by acclamation.

Then Sara will respond before we walk down the hall to affix the plaque outside Room 1710, which we name in her honor. A reception in the Founders’ Gallery concludes this occasion.

The 17th floor has become the heart of the Foundation not only when the Board meets, but when the Chicago community comes to learn about our work, expert consultations shape programs in design, and the secret nominators for the Fellow’s program meet when we are all banished. For our staff, it is a place for reflection away from the fast pace on the floors down under, common ground where program officers from different areas explore cross-cutting themes and administrative staff engages with the substance of our work.

Sara was Chair when we dedicated the Board room in honor of our first president, Jack Corbally.

Outside that room is the Founders’ Gallery honoring the Foundation’s first Trustees including John and Catherine. Up the hall comes the Furman Lecture Room recognizing our former vice president and long time Trustee. Then, the Elizabeth McCormack and Adele Simmons rooms flanking the MacArthur Room. And, now the last room in the hall of honor will be dedicated to Sara.

It will have special name. The Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot Conversation Room and is furnished with a round table and a seating area.

At Sara’s retirement I chose the theme of respect for my remarks quoting a passage from her book with that title. No one has done more to build a culture of mutual respect between Board and staff than Sara. And respect is a core value of MacArthur as it partners with courageous and creative people around the world.

For this occasion I chose the theme of conversation inspired by her book The Essential Conversation about teacher-parent interactions.

Hear her words and think about the special atmosphere of Sara’s conversation room as it will be known:

These reflections and narratives are dynamic, complex, and contextual. They are parables of wisdom, combining common sense and good judgment, rich experience and discerning criticism, scholarly learning and reflective practice.... [They] frame the essential conversation and offer explanation, insight, guidance, and a call to action.

What is most important is creating a ‘safe space’ and a ‘trusting relationship’ where... [people] can share their unique perspective and share their truth.

MacArthur does better work around the world because we are in conversation with people. We listen; not lecture. And we hear and learn about other cultures, other points of view, other strategies to confront poverty, human rights abuses, environmental degradation, and more.

The staff have appreciated essential conversations with Sara — and felt comfortable sharing their puzzles and problems with her.

Hear their words:

Because I’d read Balm in Gilead... I took to heart Sara’s reminders about the value of narrative to convey the richness of human experience in policy and practice.

What I always valued in Sara’s reflections on our work was the way she emphasized the human narrative found behind the project data.

Sara’s consistent passion to hear the stories has inspired us to keep people and their well-being in the forefront of what we do.

Without question her ability to spontaneously capture a moment uplifts all who hear her.

Thank you Sara for raising our spirits and our sights — and keeping our aspirations high and our souls humble. The circle of empathy is joined.

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