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In Tribute: Honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Russell G. Mawby, legendary leader and friend of philanthropy

Today we honor the distinguished and lifelong philanthropic leadership of Dr. Russell G. Mawby, who passed away on Oct. 20, 2017. With more than a quarter century of service to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), Mawby served as chief executive officer and chair of the board of trustees from 1970-1995.

“Russ was known for his dedicated service, for his leadership in philanthropy and his compassion and generosity in Battle Creek, throughout Michigan and around the world,” said La June Montgomery Tabron, president and CEO. “Consistent with the mission of the foundation, much of his work focused on helping young people realize their potential. Both he and Norman Brown hired me as controller 30 years ago, knowing that I knew very little about philanthropy. With both of them as mentors, they helped me discover a calling to this work. Russ welcomed his role with a spirit of humility, and at the same time, he was an incredible visionary to build the fields of leadership and philanthropy that exist today.”

Hired by Dr. Emory Morris, who worked under W.K. Kellogg during the foundation’s earliest years, Mawby studied and embraced Mr. Kellogg’s vision, values and intent for creating the foundation.  Throughout his tenure, he ensured this guided the foundation’s grantmaking and community partnerships, even as the organization grew in assets, size, reach and impact throughout his leadership.

In a 2004 interview with the Battle Creek Enquirer, Mawby described Mr. Kellogg as “a humble man with compassion, but also a risk-taker and a visionary. I tried to see that these qualities were reflected in our grantmaking worldwide….”

Dr. Mawby studied agricultural economics, earning a master’s degree from Purdue University and a doctorate from Michigan State University (MSU). On receiving his doctorate in 1964, at the recommendation of MSU President John A. Hannah, he was recruited to serve as director of the Division of Agriculture at the foundation in the same year.W.K. Kellogg Foundation | Dr. Russell G. Mawby

In short order, he developed the Michigan Agricultural Leadership Program, which grew into a model in the national rural leadership movement. In 1967, he was promoted to vice president and by 1970 became the chief executive officer of the Kellogg Foundation.

Under his guidance, WKKF became a national leader for philanthropy through support of innovative programs in a number of fields including adult continuing education, development of the community college system, access to primary health care, and the growth of leadership programs, especially through the Kellogg National Fellowship Program. He was active in efforts to make philanthropy and volunteerism a recognized academic discipline. He oversaw the pioneering development of high quality, standards-based educational materials on philanthropy and volunteerism for K-12 students, primarily through the Learning to Give program, which is now the leading learning portal for philanthropy education in the world.

Mawby was also instrumental in helping communities expand and cultivate new philanthropic resources across Michigan. In 1972, he joined other Michigan grantmakers to form the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF), serving as the chair of their first conference and a founding member and chair of their board. With significant investment from WKKF in the late 1980s and 1990s into the growth in community foundations, Michigan now has a community foundation that serves every county in the state.

“Michigan’s thriving network of community foundations would not have been possible without Dr. Mawby’s vision, support and leadership,” said Robert S. Collier, president and CEO of CMF. “Russ transformed philanthropy and the nonprofit sector by helping create CMF, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and the Michigan Community Service Commission. He wanted every Michigander to be a philanthropist and championed the opportunity for youth to actively engage in philanthropy. Community foundations and youth philanthropy are now present in 38 states and 18 countries. Philanthropy would not be what it is today in the U.S. or the world without him.”

In a speech in 1991 launching the Michigan Community Foundations’ Youth Project – the effort responsible for creating youth-driven philanthropy across the state – Russ summed up the importance of the effort: “…the most exciting solutions to today’s problems are not those coming from Washington or from Lansing. They are those coming from our local communities. Local leaders are the ones who are closest to the problems, and the ones best equipped to solve them.”

“Local leaders, of course, cannot solve community problems all by themselves,” he said. “They need to have arrows in their quivers, and perhaps the sharpest arrow is the community foundation.”

By 2017, twenty-five years after Dr. Mawby’s innovative efforts toward youth leadership in philanthropy, more than 1500 youth, ages 12-21, participate on youth advisory councils in 86 community foundations across Michigan, collectively granting more than $2.5 million annually to their communities. Michigan youth advisory councils now manage approximately $62 million in their endowments and have granted more than $33 million over the years.

Russ was also instrumental in the creation of the first comprehensive academic center for philanthropy at Indiana University. Seeking to initiate a similar institution in Michigan, in 1992 he led the effort to launch what is now the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University, named in honor of longtime fellow WKKF trustee.

Mawby retired from the Kellogg Foundation in 1995, and continued to serve on the board of trustees until 2000, while remaining as trustee emeritus.Throughout his lifetime, he received more than twenty honorary degrees, and numerous awards and recognitions.

While he was born on his family’s apple farm north of Grand Rapids, Dr. Mawby also felt a lasting personal commitment to Mr. Kellogg’s hometown of Battle Creek, Michigan.

His decision to build the foundation’s headquarters in downtown Battle Creek in 1991 was credited with helping to anchor a revitalizing area. In a 2004 article headlined, “Russ Mawby carries on W.K. Kellogg’s love of Battle Creek,” the Battle Creek Enquirer cited Dr. Mawby as one of Battle Creek’s most influential leaders. He was described as “… an individual who has quietly influenced major decisions such as the merger of Battle Creek’s hospitals, revitalization of downtown, development of programs for youth and the success of Binder Park Zoo.”

“Today, we remember and honor the life and legacy of Dr. Mawby,” said Tabron. “And in doing so, we continue to emulate his exemplary dedication to the children, families and communities we serve, toward achieving Mr. Kellogg’s vision.”

Read an interview with Dr. Mawby from Dec. 2001, in preparation for the Kellogg Foundation’s 75th anniversary celebration in 2005. Watch video interviews of Dr. Mawby with the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy. 

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