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In Memory of Lee Klingenstein (1927-2020)

“I am a lucky guy. How many of us get the chance to involve ourselves deeply and perhaps even make a contribution to an organization that is capable of major change in a world, which so needs it.”

Lee Klingenstein, Founding Chair, EL Education

EL Education mourns the passing of our Founding Chair, Lee Paul Klingenstein. Lee died peacefully at his home in Scarsdale, New York, on Monday, April 6, 2020. He was 93. 

Lee was Chair of our Board of Directors from our founding until 2008 and was an active and engaged board member thereafter. A retired partner at the investment management firm Neuberger Berman, Lee dedicated the final 30 years of his life to philanthropy and to improving public education in America. 

As Founding Chair, Lee joined Greg Farrell and other founding board members and staff to help seed a “break the mold” idea for our nation’s public schools, and to nourish, nurture, and grow the original idea and network over time, with a vision to “get EL into the drinking water of American education.” Together with our partners, EL Education today currently serves more than 500,000 students with a holistic approach to education and an inspiring and important vision for student success that joins character and academics. 

Lee was born on January 14, 1927 in New York City. Lee attended The Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut, where he would later serve as a trustee and receive the school’s Alumni Citation of Merit. He served two years as a radar repairman in the US Navy, and graduated from Princeton University. He was a successful investment manager, first with Lehman Brothers, then with Neuberger Berman, where he was a partner for 37 years. 

A fulfilling life chapter was helping to bring EL Education into fruition and good health.

Lee’s steadfast commitment to EL Education’s success—his persistent determination and optimism—sustained and buoyed our organization in essential ways over time. Animating this commitment was his enthusiasm for an educational approach that joins character, academics, and contribution to community. 

Lee was passionate about providing every child the opportunity to develop into discerning adults and fully engaged citizens. His eyes would sparkle telling the stories of current students contributing to their communities through long term academic projects, like preparing scientific reports for cities and towns on water quality, air quality, and energy efficiency. He took great delight in meeting those students and their teachers at their schools, and had profound respect for the work and commitment of teachers.  

Among other important initiatives, Lee established the Klingenstein Teacher Award to honor and recognize wonderful teachers who exemplify the best of EL. Later this year, EL Education will present the 9th annual award at our National Conference in Denver. 

And in 2016, Lee made a historic gift to the organization to establish an endowment fund in honor of students becoming active contributors to building a better world. 

The EL Education Character Framework, an open resource for schools and educators, and Better World Day, an annual celebration of student-led contribution, both were made possible through generous support from the Klingenstein Foundation. Lee’s daughter, Jo Ziesing, has led the family foundation for several years. 

Lee was a dear friend, mentor, and trusted advisor to many staff and board members. We are forever grateful for Lee’s vision, courage, kindness, and generosity over decades. 

Lee is survived by Daney, his wife of 69 years, their three children, Alan Klingenstein, Paul Klingenstein and Jo Ziesing, and 8 grandchildren. 

A celebration of Lee’s life will be held later in the year when gatherings are permitted. 

If you would like to make a contribution to EL Education in Lee Klingenstein’s honor, you may do so here or send a contribution to EL Education, 247 W. 35th Street, 8th Floor, New York, NY 10001 or email Meghan McCormick directly.

Portrait of Lee Klingenstein by Kindergarten students at Codman Academy Charter Public School, an EL Education school in Dorchester, MA.

"A truly inspirational role model and leader, Lee tirelessly and generously promoted improving the quality of—and erasing the inequality in—our system of public education. We will miss Lee's wit and wisdom, inquisitive mind, kind and gentle manner, and devotion to family and friends."

Bruce Rich, Chair, EL Education