NEFA was saddened to learn of the passing of Newell Flather (February 28, 1938 – August 30, 2021). Newell was responsible for bringing the Fund for the Arts to NEFA in 1992 and served as an Advisor to the fund for almost three decades. A co-founder of GMA Foundations philanthropic services and an advocate for race and gender equality, Newell’s leadership was celebrated in March 2020 at NEFA’s Celebration of Leadership and with the establishment of the Newell Flather Award for Leadership in Public Art.

NEFA’s Executive Director Cathy Edwards reflected on the impact Newell had at NEFA:

Newell Flather was a friend, advisor, and partner to us at the New England Foundation for the Arts for many decades. When I came to NEFA in 2015, I was struck by Newell's kindness, and the curiosity and passion he brought to his work stewarding the Fund for the Arts at NEFA. Newell loved to bring people and projects together. He introduced NEFA to many who became long-time board members and champions, with a keen sense of matchmaking around mission and social justice commitments. It was a joy to celebrate Newell's legacy of leadership in the arts, and at NEFA, in March 2020 at our Celebration of Leadership event. The many friends and colleagues who came out to join Newell, his family, and the NEFA community of board, staff, and friends, were a testament to the impact he had, in the communities he cared so much about.

Tyra Sidberry, former Fund for the Arts Advisor and Public Art consultant, remembers Newell:

I first met Newell in 1993. Once in a while, when you meet someone for the first time, you are aware, indicated by a full gaze and an expression of genuine curiosity, that they “see” you. The connection, albeit unclear in the moment, gives pause, a realization that this is not the typical meet and greet. As our professional collaborations grew, Newell was a man of many opinions that he expressed freely AND he was genuinely interested in the opinions of others - dissenting or in agreement. Newell had perspective on his world view and sought to engage with others who provided broader insights. He also found ways to connect people, particularly, to the multicultural fabric of his beloved city of Lowell. If ever there was a model for how philanthropy can and should evolve, it is embodied in his legacy.

Ted Landsmark, former NEFA board member and Fund for the Arts Advisor, recalls Newell’s impact on the field:

Newell was in from the beginning of the Fund for the Arts, and represented throughout the integrity of philanthropy, and the importance of engaging social justice and community perspectives in decision-making. He was the philanthropists' philanthropist, understanding the nuances of tax laws and donor expectations, and always open to a good argument as to why any particular beneficiary might be better suited to receive the Fund's support that some other might. He seemed to know everyone in the world of Greater Boston philanthropy, and certainly everyone knew him. He had (and was known to be a) character, who was never reticent in expressing his opinions. I learned more from him of the ethics of philanthropy that could be found in any of the books on the subject. We're all heirs to, and beneficiaries of, his experience and wisdom, and countless groups have benefitted from his work without even knowing who he was - the ultimate New England doer of good works, the apparent scion of noblesse oblige. He'll be missed, to be sure, and his work carries on through what we've observed and learned from his generosity of time, talent, and treasure. He was truly a great man.

Ted Wendell, NEFA Board of Directors and Investment Committee member, remarked on Newell’s work and friendship:

Personable, elegant and engaging, Newell Flather was a presence in the fabric of Boston. He understood and enhanced the life of Boston and the lives of Bostonians. Newell worked with many families that provided quiet support to the rich culture that distinguishes Boston, thereby helping those families grow into good citizens. The twinkle in Newell’s eye was the opening to his good humor and love of life. He was ever a pleasure to be with.

To New England Foundation for the Arts, Newell was a special friend. He guided the Fund for the Arts to NEFA and was a faithful member of the investment committee, overseeing the managers who had responsibility for NEFA’s Quasi-endowment. For each of us who knew and worked with Newell his passing is a huge loss tempered only by our thankfulness for his enduring friendship.

Sophy Theam, Diversity & Inclusion and Leadership Program Specialist at Enterprise Bank, and Trustee, Theodore Edson Parker Foundation, shared her story at the 2020 Celebration of Leadership event, which honored Newell:

In 2001, NEFA initiated and produced, in partnership with Asia Society and Lisa Booth Management, “Dance: the Spirit of Cambodia.” This project brought a 41-member troupe from the Royal University of Fine Arts, Phnom Penh, to perform in a 12-city tour, coast to coast, the first time in more than a decade that the living traditions of Khmer music and dance toured in the U.S.A. I was the assistant tour manager then and was very fortunate for the experience to work with those dance and music masters and students. On Saturday, September 1, 2001, at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium, a distinguished and tall gentleman and his beautiful wife came over to where I was helping to sell Khmer products for the artists. He introduced himself to me as Newell Flather and told me that he’d like us to stay in touch. That was the beginning of a relationship that lasted for nearly 20 years as I became a fellow for the Parker Foundation in December 2001, became an Advisor for the Foundation in 2007 and a Trustee since 2010. At the NEFA Leadership Celebration, I am honored to recognize my good friend, mentor, and “uncle” Newell Flather!

 

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