Ann Lurie, president, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Foundation and Lurie Investments Inc.
Philanthropist gives away more than $331 million with hands-on approach
Ann Lurie, the widow of entrepreneur Robert "Bob" Lurie, has given away more than $331 million to cancer research, children's health, food banks, animal shelters and more. (June 14, 2012)
Take the coming fundraising gala to celebrate the completion of the new Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, a 1.25 million-square-foot facility in Streeterville with an $855 million price tag, to which she contributed $100 million.
Not only will Lurie and her late husband's name be visible on the 23-story building, her fingerprints will be on just about everything else.
Lurie brought in a party planner for the gala April 20, her birthday. She helped sell $5 million worth of tables ranging from $25,000 to $100,000. She secured Bombardier Inc., maker of her private plane, as an underwriter. She tasted the hors d'oeuvres.
And it is her voice that guests will hear on an audio tour guiding them through select areas of the new hospital.
When she recorded the tour, producers said her voice, slightly monotone, wasn't "bouncy" enough. "Put a smile in it," they told her.
The script, she said, read like a 20-year-old wrote it and included lines she would never say, such as, "You've got to see this!" The guests, mostly older philanthropists, would appreciate something more sophisticated, she thought.
In the end, Lurie compromised. Her voice will sound more "sing-songy" than usual. But she made a few edits to the script.
Lurie, the widow of entrepreneur Robert "Bob" Lurie, the partner of real estate magnate Sam Zell, has made philanthropy her full-time job for more than 20 years, giving away more than $331 million to an array of causes: cancer research, children's health, even a large-scale archaeological excavation in Egypt. She has become known for a very hands-on approach.
"That's sort of what characterizes Ann -- she's not a stand-by-the-sidelines person," said Brian Simmons, an emeritus board member of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. "She knows what she wants to do."
Lurie aims for her gifts to be a tipping point, a spark that draws additional donors and generates momentum to get a project done. The $5 million check she wrote to the food depository in 2004, for example, set the organization on a path to raising five times that for a new facility.
As a girl, she could be moved to tears if someone looked at her askance. Now, at nearly 67, sitting in a pristine conference room in her River North office with her wispy blond hair pulled back in a butterfly clip, Lurie is not shy about sharing her opinion. She describes herself as "curious" and "stubborn."
"I'm not a person who takes yes or no for an answer without understanding why that is the response I'm getting," she said.
"Ann is very smart," said Dr. Lewis Landsberg, the Irving S. Cutter professor of medicine and dean emeritus for the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. "She likes to make sure that her money is being spent wisely. She consults widely, thinks very carefully about it and makes her own decisions."
Happiness ripped apart
Lurie was raised an only child by "pretty hearty" Canadian women -- her mother, Marion Blue, her aunt and grandmother -- who had settled in Florida. Her father became persona non grata in their lives when she was 4, a reality she struggled with for many years.
When she enrolled in the University of Florida, intent on following her mother's footsteps and becoming a nurse, her mother discouraged it. Nursing was tough emotionally and physically, and her mother feared it would be hard on sensitive Ann.
Ann studied nursing anyway. She married in her junior year, but it didn't last. They were too young, Lurie said. Her husband was ambitious, and afterward she decided that men driven toward wealth and acquisition didn't suit her.
Then she met Bob Lurie.