Franklin A. Thomas, Pathbreaking Ford Foundation President, Dies at 87


Mr. Thomas pushed engagement with anti-apartheid efforts in South Africa, and Ford was among the first global nonprofits to open an office there. In 1993, he persuaded Nelson Mandela, a personal friend, and F.W. de Klerk, the country’s last apartheid-era president (who died last month), to meet with President Bill Clinton in Philadelphia.

He left the foundation in 1996 — largely to focus his work on South Africa, but also because he had managed to achieve everything that he had set out to do when he took over, and more.

Asked on one occasion if his mother ever dreamed that he would become president of the Ford Foundation, he replied, “She would not have set her sights so low.”

Franklin Augustine Thomas was born in Bedford-Stuyvesant on May 27, 1934. Though he grew up in a tight-knit family of immigrants from Barbados, the neighborhood was suffering, with crime on the rise and…

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