By Todd Cohen
The Halifax County native and founder of a public radio station in Warrenton will be the first black woman to head a major North Carolina foundation outside a corporation.
Golden Leaf, which already has $93 million in assets, will be one of the state’s largest foundations: It is scheduled to receive $2.3 billion over the next 25 years from the tobacco industry as part of its $206 billion settlement with 46 states.
Tom Lambeth, executive director of the Reynolds Foundation, says that, in addition to simply getting the new foundation started, a big task for Lee will be “providing the leadership that will help the foundation develop its character and its personality.”
Bill Friday, the retired UNC system president who serves as chairman of Golden Leaf’s board of directors, says Lee’s immediate challenge will be getting the foundation’s grants program started and building a modest staff.
The foundation, which has hired the Research Triangle Institute to design its funding procedures, will make grants in late December totaling about $5 million. The deadline for submitting grant applications for the first round of grants is Oct. 15.
The departure of Lee, who has worked at Reynolds for 15 years, will continue the exodus from the $500 million-asset foundation in Winston-Salem.
Lambeth, who had planned to retire in June after 22 years with the foundation, has agreed to stay on until January, when he is succeeded to Tom Ross, a Greensboro Superior Court judge who is director of the state Administrative Office of the Courts.
The announcement in April that Ross would succeed Lambeth was followed by the resignation of Joe Kilpatrick as assistant director.
Kilpatrick, who joined the foundation in 1980 and was a finalist for the top job, will work through the end of the year on a part-time basis before going to work full-time for the all-volunteer Human Service Alliance in Winston-Salem.
And in July, Peter Tavernise, a program officer for two years, resigned to take a job with the Research Triangle Institute.
Lambeth says the departures give Ross an opportunity to quickly shape the foundation.
“He can immediately have a real personal impact on what the foundation looks like and how it operates,” Lambeth says.
Lee was one of three finalists for Golden Leaf job. Another was former state Transportation Secretary Norris Tolson.
State Commerce Secretary Rick Carlyle, who reportedly is considering several job possibilities – including either heading a new state fund proposed by the Rural Prosperity Task Force or taking a job in higher education — withdrew as a candidate before the final round of interviews.
Friday says the foundation has not yet decided where it will be based. Possibilities include Raleigh and a location in Eastern North Carolina.