Andrew Heiskell, a giant of American publishing and philanthropy, died on July 6. Heiskell was a founding board member of People For the American Way.
“America has lost one of its great First Amendment champions and one of its true civic leaders,” said People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas. “Andrew Heiskell led a life of extraordinary accomplishment in the business world and exceptional achievement in his public spirited ventures. He was a man of grace, good humor, bracing honesty, and tireless commitment to the best values of the country he loved and served. He will be remembered with deep respect and the warmest affection.”
“When you looked at Andrew Heiskell, you saw a grand man,” said People For the American Way founder Norman Lear. “To know him was to know that his vision, his heart, and his courage were as grand as his appearance. There would be no People For the American Way as we know it without Andrew Heiskell.”
Heiskell was one of the first American leaders Lear approached when he wanted to develop a positive response to the growing power and divisive message of the Religious Right political movement. Heiskell joined other founding board members like Barbara Jordan and Father Theodore Hesburgh to adopt a far-reaching charter that became the blueprint to affirm the American Way. “By this,” they wrote, “we mean pluralism, individuality, freedom of thought, expression and religion, a sense of community, and tolerance and compassion for others.”
For more than two decades, Heiskell provided People For the American Way with steadfast leadership as a member of the board of directors, a long-time chair of the organization’s executive committee, and an indispensable sounding board and adviser to every PFAW president.
Heiskell’s advice was backed by a wealth of experience and leadership skills. He served for 20 years as chairman of Time, Inc., where he refined a critical understanding of the value of knowledge and the persuasive power of free expression and a free press. He became publisher of Life magazine when he was just 30 years old, and he later launched People magazine, one of publishing’s great success stories.
Heiskell’s successes in business were accompanied by remarkable accomplishments as a philanthropist and activist. In 1967, he helped found the National Urban Coalition and served as its co-chair. He was a crucial force in contributing and encouraging support for the revitalization of the New York Public Library throughout the eighties, when Heiskell served as the library’s chairman. The effort was a huge success, raising more than $300 million to restore one of the nation’s most comprehensive library systems. Heiskell also co-founded the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation to reverse the decline in one of New York’s great parks. He served on the board of the American Academy in Rome (Heiskell was born in Italy) and the Lincoln Center Theater.
In 1982, Heiskell was appointed founding chairman of the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities. He received that organization’s Arts and Humanities Award in 1993, alongside jazz vocalist Cab Calloway, blues legend Ray Charles, author William Styron and film producer Billy Wilder. On presenting the award, President Clinton recognized the uncommon value of Heiskell’s support of America’s cultural assets: “As a leader in promoting the arts and humanities, he energetically, and I echo energetically, persuaded cultural leaders and business executives to support cultural activities and institutions. He filled a void in American life at a time when we needed him. And today we thank him for that.”
People For the American Way expresses its condolences to Andrew’s wife, Marian S. Heiskell, and to the family, friends, and associates who will miss him deeply.