Community Trust CEO, focused on fundraising
DONALD M. STEWART 1938-2019
Donald M. Stewart returned to his hometown to serve as CEO of the Chicago Community Trust in the early 2000s after a career that included time as president of Spelman College, a historically black women’s school in Atlanta.
During his time as head of the then-$1.2 billion trust, Stewart distinguished himself by renewing the group’s emphasis on fundraising, focusing on diversity and setting up the next generation of the organization’s leadership.
“He had a real capacity to understand the impact of a foundation’s grantmaking, and part of his legacy is that he launched the trust on the path of diversity and inclusion,” said Terry Mazany, who succeeded Stewart as the foundation’s CEO in 2004. “One of my points of pride is that thanks to Don’s start, the trust really does reflect and represent the communities it serves, and it is, I think, a standard for other community foundations.”
Stewart, 80, died April 7 of a heart attack he suffered while in an ambulance en route from his home to the University of Chicago Medical Center, said his son, Carter, who is a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio. Stewart was a Hyde Park resident.
Donald Mitchell Stewart was born in Chicago and grew up in Hyde Park, the son of a postal employee father and a mother who sold World Book encyclopedias to put their children through college. After graduating from Hyde Park High School, Stewart earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Grinnell College in Iowa in 1959. He later earned a master’s degree in political science from Yale University.
Stewart was inspired to pursue a career overseas by one of his heroes, the African-American diplomat and Nobel Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche, his son said. He studied for two years at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, and, from 1962 until 1969, worked as a program officer in the Overseas Development Division of the Ford Foundation. That job took him to countries including Nigeria, Egypt and Tunisia.
Stewart earned a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1969 and a doctorate in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School in 1975. During and after his graduate studies, Stewart worked at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was associate dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, director of the College of General Studies, an assistant professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning and counselor to the provost.
In 1976, Stewart was named Spelman College’s president. The announcement of his appointment sparked a sit-in from female students, irate that an African-American woman had not been chosen for the post.
The women locked 14 college trustees in a room for 26 hours. Ultimately, tensions eased, and Stewart served for the next decade as president at Spelman, where he established a fullfledged department of chemistry and a comprehensive writing program and also initiated computer science as a major and a minor. Stewart also boosted the college’s endowment from $9 million to $41 million during his presidency.
In 1986, Stewart left Spelman to become president of the College Entrance Examination Board, also known as the College Board. During more than 12 years at the College Board, Stewart developed a reputation for building and broadening initiatives aimed at boosting the academic preparation of high school students of color and those facing financial challenges.
Stewart left the College Board in 1999 to take a one year sabbatical at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, where he worked as a senior program officer and special adviser to the president, responsible for grantmaking in higher education and teacher education.
In June 2000, Stewart became president and CEO of the Chicago Community Trust, one of the oldest and largest charitable community trusts in the nation. Under Stewart’s leadership, the organization launched a new foundation to serve Lake County called the Lake County Community Foundation.
“He loved Chicago,” his son said. “He loved trying to help people through philanthropic work, and I think he wanted to be closer to his parents, too, who at that point were elderly.”
Stewart followed the long tenure of former CEO Bruce Newman. “Given how long Bruce was here, I thought my contribution would be that of a change agent” and a “bridge to a new era,” he told the Tribune in 2004.
Under his leadership, the Chicago Community Trust successfully retained the Searle family funds, which were a key source of the trust’s $50 million or so in annual grant-making at the time. He also focused on fundraising and diversity, and he mentored Mazany, in order to set him up to be the group’s next CEO.
Stewart asked Mazany to oversee a $50 million, fiveyear program to support literacy, teacher and principal development and school improvement in Chicago.
“He was the most gracious, kind and caring person I ever met,” Mazany said. “He gave me the chance to move into the world of philanthropy, and to have a shot at leading the trust would not have happened without him, where he had a sense that with my education background, that I would be a good fit for leading the brand-new education initiative that the board had identified.”
Stewart also was a believer in collaborative philanthropy, and during his tenure, he created partnerships with other organizations, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Erikson Institute.
After retiring from the Chicago Community Trust, Stewart was a visiting professor at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy from 2005 until 2011. Stewart also served as a visiting scholar at the Erikson Institute in 2012.
Stewart served on the boards of The New York Times Co. and the Campbell Soup Co., as well as on the board of Grinnell College.
In 2010, President Barack Obama named Stewart to the Commission on Presidential Scholars.
Stewart also is survived by his wife of 53 years, Isabel Carter Stewart, former executive director of the Chicago Foundation for Women; another son, Jay; and eight grandchildren.
A funeral service will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday at the University Church of Chicago, 5655 S. University Ave., Chicago.
Donald M. Stewart focused on fundraising and diversity during his time as president and CEO of the Chicago Community Trust.