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Foundation chief retiring

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Cope worked to connect North Carolinians to Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.

By Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. [04.19.04] — While the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust has more than doubled its assets since he joined it in 1991, and launched and invested in a broad range of innovative efforts to fight poverty and improve health, E. Ray Cope says his proudest accomplishment has been to give more North Carolinians access to the foundation.

The foundation, one of North Carolina’s biggest, opened satellite offices in Asheville, Greenville and Fayetteville in 1995, and has held dozens of local workshops about the foundation and community health needs over the past eight years.

“It increased the visibility of the trust to the communities and made the trust accessible to communities and organizations that did not know how to access the trust,” says Cope, who will retire December 31 as president of the $520 million-asset foundation.

As he prepares to step down, Wachovia Bank, the foundation’s sole trustee, is launching a search for a successor it hopes to hire by the third quarter to begin working with Cope.

Cope, who worked at Wachovia for 28 years before joining the foundation, including 12 years with administrative responsibility for the foundation, says the search, the first ever to fill the top job, will try to identify “someone in North Carolina.”

Cope has had a big impact on the foundation and state, says Tom Lambeth, retired executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem, one of several North Carolina philanthropies endowed by the family that controlled the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

“He started out in the traditional role of the bank trust officer with Kate B. and has helped lead it for what has really been a new day there,” Lambeth says.

Joining the foundation two years after its assets surged to $237 million from $129 million as a result of the 1989 buyout of RJR Nabisco, Cope has greatly strengthened the role of two boards that advise Wachovia on the foundation, Lambeth says.

While Wachovia still has the final word on grants, those two advisory boards now have a big voice in shaping the foundation’s focus and grantmaking.

And while sticking to the mission of the foundation spelled out by its namesake, who was married to William N. Reynolds, a brother of R.J. Reynolds who served as CEO of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. after his brother’s death, Cope has expanded the foundation’s focus to meet changing needs, Lambeth says.

“It was a very limited kind of mission, and so they’ve had to carve out of the donor intent of the 1940s and 50s what’s a realistic kind of role for the trust to play in 2000,” says Lambeth.

Cope has been an effective leader, Lambeth says, because he listens carefully to new ideas and is “not a prisoner of any kind of ideological or philosophical or any other prejudgment.”

Based on Mrs. Reynolds’ will, three-fourths of the foundation’s grant dollars support health needs throughout the state, and one-fourth support the poor and needy in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County.

Under Cope’s leadership, the foundation has awarded grants of more than $242 million.

The focus of grants in Forsyth County has ranged from infant mortality and childhood obesity to homelessness and the needs of the region’s growing Hispanic population, while health grants have addressed the needs of the state’s aging population, alternative community programs for disabled adults, and the promotion of health and prevention of disease.

For some of those statewide health initiatives, many of them launched in response to feedback from its satellite offices and community workshops, the foundation issued requests for proposals before selecting groups for multi-year grants.

Cope, who says he initially was surprised by the state’s lack of “infrastructure” to develop basic health services, particularly in rural areas such as Eastern North Carolina, says big challenges for the state include addressing the needs of its aging population and Hispanic populations, along with mental health, family violence and a shortage of health professionals, particularly in rural areas.

“It is my desire that the foundation, along with other foundations and the state, address these challenging issues,” he says.

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