Elizabeth Lurie loved to tell the story of how her father brought her, at the age of 12, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to New York City. After breakfast at the Waldorf-Astoria, he told her to go and see the city by herself. He would meet her later. And she did. This was the 1950s. Unafraid to take life on, to explore, to go walk about, Elizabeth looked at life with clear-eyed amazement. Her curiosity, sustained by her enormous intellectual and spiritual gifts, allowed her to hit the road, over and over again, searching out meaning, always seeking beauty.
At six feet tall, with a full-throated laugh, she was a creative force: banker, art collector, art dealer, ferociously competent editor, philanthropist, daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, and guardian angel to many. She was a protean talent, a figure larger than life. She strode through the world with great energy and blessed us with her commanding presence. She attentively listened, even as so many people—from prominent scholars and leaders to people she had met in the course of daily life—consulted with her on everything from public policy to personal matters. She saw the future, and she saw right through you, never hesitating to say what was on her mind, and to tell you why you were wrong, and what you could do about it. Ever forgiving, ever patient with the conflicted human heart, Elizabeth reached out to help people over and over again.
Following in her father’s footsteps as a leader of the Brady Corporation, the company founded by her grandfather, William H. Brady Sr., Elizabeth committed herself to using her considerable resources to support men and women who thought and cared deeply about American culture. She gave from her own personal funds, as well as through the W. H. Brady Foundation. The foundation, established in Wisconsin in 1956, reflected her and her father’s sprawling interests, supporting efforts to study and sustain morality and public life, family and community, and the preservation and development of Western civilization.
But the simple truth is, if Elizabeth trusted you, she backed you. After the Cold War, she thought the main issue confronting the nation was a crisis of culture. She was not a snob. She did not define culture as high culture, but as reigning beliefs. In her philanthropy, she recognized the importance of civil society and of mediating institutions. She championed the free expression of religion. She sought to strengthen those traditional values that foster character, competence, and citizenship. She believed in Great Books education. So many of us—from the American Enterprise Institute, to the Independent Women’s Forum, to The Philanthropy Roundtable, and many others -benefited from her guidance and generosity.
Throughout her life she sought out artists whose craftsmanship was as extraordinary as their vision. She respected artists who worked in all media: wood, glass, textile, stone, paint, photography, drawings, lithography, literature, poetry, music. The range and diversity were remarkable: The most sophisticated examples of contemporary glass work sat atop antique Korean furniture in a room with hand-woven tapestries and photographs. Art surrounded her books and snapshots of family. (Or was it the other way around?) Niko, her stunning Alaskan Husky, always met you at the door and demanded your attention. Elizabeth believed that no matter where you are in life, taking care of an animal that in turn takes care of you, brings you closer toward transcendence.
Her family had produced great wealth and throughout her life Elizabeth was aware of the discipline required to invest it, preserve it, and spend it wisely. She did all of these things with brilliance and passion. Above all else, she would honor the trust that her father had placed in her and would meet the demands of that legacy. Her heart was always with people and she found all sorts—high and low—just as they found her. She gave of her mind, her resources, her strength, and her trust. The gifts which she bestowed on so many over the years gave people the confidence to work hard and to believe in themselves, because she believed in them. This was her covenant. It was her understanding of the role she had to play.
In her later years, with spectacular views from every room in her home, but especially from her bedroom, Elizabeth gazed out at the red rock mountains of Sedona, Arizona. Sitting there with her, you felt as though you were on top of the world. She will be greatly missed.
Raina Sacks Blankenhorn is vice president for strategic planning at the Institute for American Values.