A Tribute to Philanthropic Leader Joanne Beyer

On Dec. 26, 2021, Joanne B. Beyer, a leader in conservative philanthropy and former Philanthropy Roundtable board member, passed away at age 82. Beyer was a trustee and former president of the Allegheny Foundation in Pittsburgh and a former member of the board of directors at St. Vincent College. She also was the recipient of awards such as Acton Institute’s Guardian of Freedom Award and the Perseverance, Grace and Purpose Award from the Parkinson Foundation of Western Pennsylvania. In an effort to honor Beyer’s involvement with Philanthropy Roundtable and her contributions to philanthropy and conservative principles, the Roundtable has compiled written tributes by former Roundtable leaders and board members: Kim Dennis, Adam Meyerson and Heather Higgins.  

Kim Dennis, president, Searle Freedom Trust: 

“As one of the original board members of the Philanthropy Roundtable, Joanne Beyer played a critical role in setting the organization’s direction and in guiding its early development. Joanne was a key player in the Roundtable’s decision to put donor intent at the core of its mission and was a leader in its devotion to the principles of a free society. Her philanthropic work in the Pittsburgh area was a testament to the importance of free, voluntary exchange in fostering opportunity for those most in need. Joanne and her wonderful husband Dick were fixtures at Philanthropy Roundtable meetings for as long as their health allowed. They could be counted on to add substance to the sessions and merriment to the meals. 

“Owing to the humility she brought to her various philanthropic roles, Joanne Beyer may not be a household name. But she left an imprint way out of proportion to her slight figure. Joanne combined a fierce devotion to principle with a marvelous sense of humor. Those of us who were privileged to work closely with her were enriched by both. Though we will miss her laughter and her leadership, she will continue to be with us, serving as a role model for those who believe that philanthropy is best pursued through a belief in the blessings of liberty and a spirit of cheerful determination.” 

Kim Dennis served as Philanthropy Roundtable’s first executive director, a position she held until 1996.   

Adam Meyerson, vice president, Stand Together: 

“Joanne was one of the great leaders in conservative philanthropy of the past generation. Her extraordinary influence did not result from the size of the Allegheny Foundation which, at the time, was smaller than it is today. Rather, through her philanthropic leadership in Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania, Joanne offered a national model of how to apply conservative principles to social services and cultural giving in one’s local community and region. She was one of the most engaged and influential board members of Philanthropy Roundtable in our early years. When I was at the Roundtable, I cherished her guidance and counsel as a board member and then for many years afterwards as an active participant in our programs.”  

Adam Meyerson served as Philanthropy Roundtable president from 2001-2020. 

Heather Higgins, president, The Randolph Foundation: 

“Three words that capture Joanne Beyer to me are humor, honesty and humility. 

“We first met in the early days of the Philanthropy Roundtable at its annual conferences. Joanne was just fun. Over a cocktail and cigarettes, she had no patience for puffery, pretense or guile. She called things as she saw them, without agenda. That viewpoint inevitably came with a wry laugh and a smile. She could keep a confidence. And her advice – sought by many – was always insightful, sound and honestly given. 

 “As Kim and Adam have relayed, Joanne played an important role in philanthropic circles in Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania during her tenure at Allegheny and beyond. Her public policy interests and influence continued long after retirement. For nearly 20 years, right through our last board meeting less than a month ago, she broadened that focus to a national scope, serving as a director and cherished colleague on the board of The Randolph Foundation. 

 “We live in an era where leaders are big and loud, where media attention is actively sought and credit and acknowledgment are demanded for achievements won. This is hardly the only way to exhibit leadership. I am reminded of Ronald Reagan’s line, that there is ‘no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.’ This is also leadership. Humility is a powerful ingredient in the kind of leadership that gets things done. But humble leaders are seldom household names and often don’t receive the recognition that they deserve, which is why I am grateful the Acton Institute awarded Joanne in 2018 their Guardian of Freedom Award. 

“Though tiny and weighing about as much as a wet bunny, Joanne was a cancer survivor with an indefatigable will to live and enjoy life. Yet the isolation of COVID – her community for long spells stopped having social hours and group dining, and to her complete disgust, at times, Pennsylvania rules meant no liquor store could deliver the capacity for her nightly cocktail – had been hard.  The last months had become physically very challenging and restrictive for Joanne. So it wasn’t unexpected that, after a happy Zoom on Christmas day with all her family, she went to bed and sometime in the night slipped off to a place where it is easy to breathe, where there are no COVID restrictions and where she once again dances with her Dick.    

“She made the world – and the lives of all who knew her – better for her being in it. Thank you, Joanne, for being you.” 

Heather Higgins is a former Philanthropy Roundtable board member.