Life of John W. Gardner
Founding Chairperson
Independent Sector
October 8, 1912 -- February 16, 2002

John W. GardnerThe John W. Gardner Leadership Award was established in 1985 to honor outstanding Americans who exemplify the leadership and the ideals of John W. Gardner (1912-2002), American statesman and founding chair of Independent Sector.

In the passing of John Gardner, our country has lost one of its greatest builders of ideas and institutions and a unifier of people and causes. He was a leader in many circles, from government and politics to civil rights, education, and philanthropy. As a Republican in a Democratic administration, John was a believer in the responsibility of government to create social change, as evidenced by his leadership in designing Medicare programs. He was an original in the fight for civil rights and campaign finance reform, and he was an early force in the recognition of the great power of private, nonprofit initiative and its role in shaping society.

He died within weeks of President Bush's call for national service and just three days after the House of Representatives voted to enact campaign finance reform -- two causes to which he lent his leadership and energy. In the nonprofit and philanthropic sphere in particular, his leadership and ideas have influenced thousands of leaders who are in turn applying his ideas of community building and renewal around the world. In his passing, we have lost a great friend and mentor and the nation has lost a great advocate for vibrant healthy communities.

-- Sara E. Meléndez, Former President and CEO, Independent Sector

Biography -- John W. Gardner

John W. Gardner was the ultimate builder of ideas and unifier of people and causes. He was an active and distinguished participant in America's educational, philanthropic, and political life. He served as president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare; chairperson of the National Urban Coalition; founding chairman of Common Cause; and founding chairperson of Independent Sector. In 1964, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

He was the architect of the Great Society programs, as Lyndon Johnson's Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, and counselor to five other presidents. He wrote on such topics as excellence, leadership, self-renewal and organizational renewal. Mr. Gardner was considered one of our foremost thinkers and a vigorous advocate for social action and national renewal. In his remarkable career, he played an instrumental role in a vast array of enterprises, including the White House Fellows Program, public television, enforcement of the Civil Rights Act, Medicare, the Experience Corps and many, many others. Through the sheer power of his ideas, he became one of the most influential voices of his generation.

In 1978 and 1979, Mr. Gardner chaired the Organizing Committee that founded Independent Sector, a unique national coalition that today includes 600 nonprofit organizations, foundations and corporate philanthropy programs. Just as Common Cause has proven to be a powerful lobby force of individual citizens, Independent Sector provides a major meeting ground for organizations in the nonprofit sector and a force for advancing the nonprofit and philanthropic community's work. He served as Independent Sector's founding chairperson from 1980 to 1983, and in years since, was chairperson emeritus.

He authored several books and monographs on the relationship of the individual and societal improvement, On Leadership, Building Community, and National Renewal.
In 1985, Independent Sector created the John W. Gardner Leadership Award in his honor, recognizing outstanding leaders in nonprofit and philanthropic work who have mirrored his exemplary efforts as a builder, mobilizer and unifier. Twenty-four individuals have received the award since its inception.
His influence remains strong among thousands of men and women working and leading in nonprofit organizations, government and business, and especially among many young leaders, who are the builders of tomorrow.

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