Remembering Jeffrey Leonard

A writer, benefactor, and board member for the Washington Monthly, Jeff was a visionary policy intellectual.

A memorial service for Jeffrey Leonard will be held this Sunday,October 21st, at 2 p.m.,
at Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church,9601 Cedar Lane, Bethesda, Maryland. The visitation and reception ison Saturday, October 20th, from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Robert A. Pumphrey Funeral Home,7557 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, Maryland.

The Washington Monthly is heartbroken to report the sudden death of our friend and colleague, Jeffrey Leonard—writer, board member, and benefactor—on Thursday.

It is hard to exaggerate what a wonderful, impressive, and generous man Jeff was, or the central role he played in sustaining and strengthening the Washington Monthly. A decade ago, when we were on the ropes financially, Jeff gave us a substantial personal donation, became chairman of our board, and brought with him the estimable Diane Straus as our publisher. For a year we ran the magazine rent-free out of extra offices at Jeff’s Global Environment Fund (GEF), a private equity firm that invests in the clean energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable resource sectors. There we got to know his terrific wife (and high school sweetheart) Cal and meet (or at least hear proud stories about) their three kids, Michael, Anna, and Peter. Under Jeff’s fatherly guidance, and with Diane in the lead, we rebuilt the magazine’s business model, expanded its funding base, and ultimately “moved out of the house.” But Jeff became a regular in our new offices and a continuing source of wise advice on the business front.

Jeff was not only a brilliant businessman, but also a visionary policy intellectual. A D.C. native with a doctorate from Princeton, a master’s from the London School of Economics, and a bachelor’s from Harvard (where he roomed with our own Nick Lemann), he wrote five books, served as vice president of the World Wildlife Fund and the Conservation Foundation, and advised a host of government agencies, from the World Bank to the EPA, before cofounding GEF in 1990. More than anyone I’ve ever known, he had deep knowledge of the workings of both government and markets, of how the two intersect, and of their respective strengths and weaknesses. He also had a reporter’s sensibility, constantly picking up intel as he traveled the world—and the D.C. think tank circuit—and formulating the information into pragmatic, ahead-of-the-curve policy ideas. He turned many of those into visionary stories for the Washington Monthly—like this great one, in which he predicted (pre-Tesla) the electrification of American transportation. See also here, here, and here. His most famous piece, about how large corporations were increasingly and systematically delaying payments to their smaller business contractors and damaging the economy in the process, landed him a guest appearance on The Colbert Report and spurred action by the Obama administration.

 

The Washington Monthly is hardly the only organization that has benefited from Jeff’s many gifts. He chaired the board at City Year Washington DC, co-chaired the Clean Technology Venture Network in San Francisco, and was most recently treasurer at New America and a senior fellow there in global studies. In business, his policy work, and in every part of his life, Jeff made the world better. He left us too soon, and he will be keenly missed.

Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly.