By Todd Cohen
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Joe Kilpatrick, assistant director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem, has resigned.
Kilpatrick, who has worked for Reynolds since 1980, submitted his resignation just a month after the foundation’s board named Superior Court Judge Tom Ross to succeed Tom Lambeth as executive director when he retires at the end of the year.
Starting July 1, Kilpatrick, one of five finalists for the top job, will continue to work for the $500 million-asset foundation on a consulting basis through the end of the year.
But he will devote himself full-time to transforming an all-volunteer group known as the Human Service Alliance into a new entity to teach principles of volunteer service.
While the foundation faces a double-whammy with the twin departures of Lambeth and Kilpatrick, the board signaled in hiring Ross that it plans to stick to the philanthropic direction in which Lambeth has guided Reynolds for 22 years.
In fact, all five finalists for the top job meshed with the foundation’s underlying philosophy of serving as a catalyst to shape public policy in the state.
In addition to Ross and Kilpatrick, finalists included Valeria Lee, the foundation’s program officer; Rick Carlisle, state commerce secretary; and former state Sen. Leslie Winner, a Charlotte lawyer.
A news release announcing the appointment of Ross said Kilpatrick and Lee both would remain with the foundation.
Kilpatrick says that, at the time, he hadn’t yet decided to move full-time to the volunteer initiative.
“The great thing about the foundation’s decision on the executive director,” he says, “is that it liberates me to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.”
Ross says he talked to Kilpatrick before he decided to resign and encouraged him to stay.
“He has been a tremendous asset to the foundation and North Carolina,” Ross says. “I was very much looking forward to the opportunity to work with him.”
Ross says he’s glad Kilpatrick has agreed “to stay and continue the team that’s in place through the end of the year, and then I can look to react to the situation when I get there.”
He says he initially will look to existing staff to fill Kilpatrick’s job.
Kilpatrick, a lawyer, is well-known and highly respected throughout the state as a thoughtful and compassionate leader and an expert on a range of issues.
“Joe has provided great leadership, particularly in the areas of community development and the environment and good government, and so the challenge to the foundation will be to be able to fill that gap with someone else who will also be able to bring his combination of passion and intensity about the issues,” says Leslie Takahashi Morris, executive director of the Wildacres Leadership Initiative in Research Triangle Park and a member of the foundation’s advisory panel.
“I’m not particularly surprised there’s going to be change,” she says of Kilpatrick’s resignation, “because most of the time there’s change in an administration, there tends to be sort of a ripple effect.”
But she says she’s confident the foundation “will keep its place as one of the linchpins of progressive philanthropy in our state.”
A passion of Kilpatrick’s in recent years has been the Human Service Alliance, which provides care for terminally ill patients, respite care for families with developmentally or physically disabled children, and special health and wellness programs.
Now, Kilpatrick says, the group has decided to stop providing direct services and instead has created a separate nonprofit, the University for Human Goodness.
This fall, the new group will begin training 30 to 40 fulltime students in principles of voluntarism. The students will live at the organization’s facility in Winston-Salem and practice their volunteer skills at its restaurant, the California Fresh Buffet.