State Policy Network lost a faithful friend when Whitney Ball’s long battle with cancer ended on August 17, 2015. She fought that fight the same way she defended freedom, with remarkable grit and determination—and an indomitable sense of humor.
I learned so many important lessons about life and leadership from Whitney. It would take many conversations over many glasses of wine to share them all. Perhaps most important for the future of SPN and the community it serves is that Whitney succeeded in a movement dominated by men, and she proved by her example that we should have more smart, committed women like her in decisive positions.
I deeply mourn her passing, but I cannot think of Whitney without smiling. She was fun, irreverent, and full of passion for our cause even as the end of her life approached.
Our careers started in different places, but our paths crossed early and often. I recall that first conversation during a public policy conference. She was quietly looking for a new job, and a mutual friend told her I might be able to help. Indeed, I knew of a new effort to counter the considerable clout of the Council on Foundations, then an 800-pound, pro-government gorilla in philanthropy and politics. Kim Dennis, the president, needed an executive director, and Whitney was perfect for the role. She interviewed, got the job, and went on to be essential in developing the Philanthropy Roundtable. Today the Council is a mere shadow of what it once was, while the Roundtable shines as an advocate of freedom and free enterprise.
Whitney was also well known for the entrepreneurial magic she worked with Donors Trust, the community foundation that progressives love to hate. Unable to stymie its success, critics resorted to name-calling and attacking Whitney personally, none of which downgraded Donors Trust from its position of value with donors. Along with the Roundtable, Donors Trust fights effectively for donor intent and private giving, cornerstones of a free society. Both are generous supporters of the state think tank community.
When we lose someone like Whitney, we miss them terribly. The sad truth is there are too few like her.
Let’s remember her by fighting for the things she loved.
Carl Helstrom is chairman of SPN’s board of directors.