By Ret Boney
ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. – Valeria Lee, president of the Golden LEAF Foundation since its inception in 2000, will retire next March.
The foundation was formed by North Carolina lawmakers in 1999 to receive and distribute half the $4.6 billion in funds due the state from a settlement with national tobacco companies.
“We have a solid foundation and I’m excited about the work that has been done, is being done, and will be done,” says Lee, who approached the board with her retirement plans about two years ago. “But it’s time for a transition in leadership.”
Since its founding, Golden LEAF, which is charged with helping retool and reinvigorate tobacco-reliant communities, has awarded 580 grants totaling almost $220 million.
“Valeria has been a great leader,” says Rick Holder, president of Harvey Fertilizer and Gas in Kinston, chair of the foundation’s board and head of its search committee.
“Valeria has brought her longtime work in education and her dedication as a tireless advocate for the voices to the organization,” he said in a statement.
Golden LEAF has retained Beth Briggs of Creative Philanthropy in Raleigh to conduct a national search beginning Nov. 1 for Lee’s replacement, who Holder hopes to have on board by March or April of next year.
“We’re looking for someone who has real leadership qualities,” says Briggs, “someone who can help the board craft a vision for addressing the needs in rural North Carolina and who understands economic development and how you can transform these communities.”
She stresses that the next president will need to have political and board savvy in order to work with the foundation’s “engaged and committed” board, which is appointed by the state’s governor, speaker of the N.C. House and president pro-tem of the N.C. Senate.
“It’s the role of helping this board think deeply about how we affect change and transform North Carolina utilizing limited resources,” says Briggs.
Lee agrees that leadership skills and political savvy are a must, as is a passion for the state.
“Golden LEAF needs someone who will bring to the work a commitment to the mission,” she says, “not just to rural North Carolina, but to an economy that’s in transition.”