Leonore Lee Annenberg: Advisor to Presidents, Friend of the Arts

Leonore Annenberg receives an honorary L.H.D. from USC on May 8, 1998. Courtesy of Lee Salem photography, Courtesy of the University of California, Los Angeles, California, USA.

Leonore Annenberg, better know as Lee, was born to a Jewish family in New York in 1918. Her father, Maxwell Cohn ran a textile business. Her mother, Clara, passed away when Lee was only seven years old. At that time, she and her sister, Judith were sent to live with her uncle Harry Cohn, the founder of Columbia Pictures, in Los Angeles.

Lee attended Stanford University in Palo Alto, and graduated in 1940 with a BA. After marrying and divorcing twice, with a daughter from each marriage, Lee married Walter Annenberg, editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1951.

While her husband was the US Ambassador to the United Kingdom in 1969 she founded the American Friends of Covent Garden. The organization’s goal was to encourage good relations between the US and the UK through music.

The couple, Walter and Lee, were supporters of the campaign for Ronald Reagan during his run for president in 1980. After Reagan’s election the President appointed Lee to be the Chief of Protocol of the United States. As such she advised not only the President, but also the Vice President and Secretary of State on all matters having to due with diplomatic protocol. She also had the role of welcoming foreign diplomats and dignitaries upon their arrival to the US. In 1982, saying that she wanted to spend more time with her husband, Lee resigned from her post.

After leaving her post Lee was able to spend more time promoting her philanthropic projects. Her and her husband donated generously to many organizations promoting culture in the US. She was a member of the Acquisitions Committee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of the managing directors of The Metropolitan Opera, honorary trustee and former board president of the Palm Springs Art Museum, and a member of the American Philosophical Society. She was also was chairwoman emerita of the Foundation of Art and Preservation in Embassies, and a member of the Committee for the Preservation of the White House.

When her husband died in 2002 Lee took over as chairman and president of the Annenberg Foundation, an organization that funds non-profit organizations and education institutes and programs supporting the arts.

She never stopped supporting her favorite causes, until her death in Rancho Mirage, California in 2009, at the age of 91. She was truly a remarkable woman.

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