Skip to content

Statement from Kresge Foundation President and CEO Rip Rapson on William S. White, long-time Leader of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation

General Foundation News

The Kresge Foundation mourns – alongside the larger philanthropic community in Michigan and throughout the country and world – the passing of William S. White, the former president and CEO of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family and the entire staff at the Mott Foundation.

Bill led the Mott Foundation for four decades and was a larger-than-life presence in philanthropy –  here in his home state of Michigan to be sure, but also across the country and the world.

William S. White, addressing the European Foundation Centre in 2009.
William S. White, addressing the European Foundation Centre in 2009. Photo: Andreas Franke

I knew Bill for almost 20 years, and the equation of each of my interactions with him never varied. A phenomenal intellect and energy, enabling him to command a room of virtually any description. An iconoclastic courage that led him to lean into the most difficult issues of our day – from international human rights to poverty alleviation . . . from support for the nonprofit sector to protection of the environment. An utterly unique style, blending profound compassion with an incisive ability to cut to the essence of an issue or situation.

I will never forget the tour de force speech he gave almost fifteen years ago when he and I were visiting a Portuguese family foundation that had asked our advice as they moved into more impactful work with children and families. Without a note in front of him, Bill brilliantly wove together a history of the Mott Foundation’s evolution, the imperative of striking a balance between family values and professionalized grantmaking, and the dangers of insulating philanthropy from the scope and pace of economic and social change washing over both Europe and America. He could have talked for five hours and kept the interest of everyone in the room.

Bill also played a formative – and too often overlooked –  role in jump-starting philanthropic contributions to the Grand Bargain during the Detroit bankruptcy. At a seminal early meeting in our offices, Bill made the very first commitment of dollars to the pool that would ultimately become the linchpin in the bankruptcy settlement. His commitment on behalf of Mott opened the faucet – the other foundation partners quickly expressed their willingness to participate. It was vintage Bill: courageous, bold, unequivocal.

He was a giant.  Philanthropy will dearly miss him.