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A Conversation with Ann Lurie

By JANE AMMESON
     “My mother used to tell me that I should do a good deed daily,” Lurie says during a recent  phone conversation, just hours after she had returned from Kenya, where she founded a medical clinic 125 miles southeast of Nairobi. “My mother grew up in Saskatchewan. Her father was a foreman at a lumber camp, and during the winter, it was only the family and an old Indian who lived there. She went to school by dogsled.”
    This type of pioneering spirit was handed down to Lurie. When faced with overwhelming situations such as the protracted death of her husband, wealthy businessman Robert Lurie, who died at age 48 of colon cancer, she didn’t just mourn. A widow with six children to raise, ages five to 15, she decided quickly how to carry on.
    “My husband’s passing stopped me in my tracks,” says Lurie. “My immediate response was that I needed to pull myself up by my bootstraps. I just did what I had to do.”
    There is a lesson learned by those who give to others—whether it is their time and/or money—and that is giving can truly make us feel so much better.  For Lurie, helping others makes her feel good.  After all, what can be better than giving hope when none existed, feeding the hungry, providing universities with the tools for training doctors and scientists and, the ultimate, saving lives?
    “Doing that good deed became ingrained in me early on,” she says.
    But there is more. When faced with challenging situations, Lurie knows how to soldier on.
    “I started off as a safari client 10 years ago,” says Lurie, explaining how her clinic came to be. “They asked me and my then-fiancé if we would build a nursery school. And we did, using the Head Start template.”
    On the first day of school, Lurie looked around the room at the young children.
    “I thought, oh, my God, there are a lot of kids here who look really sick,” she recalls. “I thought that someone should start a clinic for these sick children, and I knew I was the only one standing in that line.”
    The first step was a trailer, filled with medical personnel and equipment, which traveled down the rural roads in Kenya. But the need was so great that Lurie, of course, took it to the next level. Now there is a 24-building, fixed-based clinic, the Aid Village Clinics, which encompasses a support compound, four examining rooms, a pharmacy, in-patient facility for the seriously ill  and tuberculosis and x-ray facilities. The traveling trailer still does outreach, and last year, the clinics received 16 motorcycles from the Pfizer International Foundation, which they use to send medical personnel to remote villages.
    “And of course, the larger it gets, the more complex it is,” says Lurie with a slight laugh. “We now have laundries, a cafeteria, all sorts of things like that.”
   Being personally involved—she’s even scrubbed floors at the clinic—is important to Lurie.
    “I refer to some philanthropic concerns as hovering in a helicopter throwing out money,” she says. “But philanthropy doesn’t mean just giving money. In the dictionary, it means loving one’s fellow man.”
    Since her husband died in 1990, Lurie has used the money he left her and the lessons he taught to further extend their fortune, enabling her to give even more money away.
    “I say I got my MBA at the hands of an expert because [Robert] spent a lot of time talking to me, expelling the business to me,” Lurie says. “He had enough foresight to know that the world of investments would change.  I was lucky enough to change the course of what we were doing.”
     Lurie is passing her passion for philanthropy to her children.
    “My oldest son, who is working on his MBA, told me he goes to an old folks’ home and plays his guitar,” she says. “You can’t negate those personal things. It’s been my experience that despite some of these gifts that I’ve made, which are very large, little things are important, too. We had a child in Kenya who was undergoing a surgical procedure, and the nurse reached over and held his hand, and you could see how big a difference that made.”

     For those who want to help, visit www.aidvillageclinics.org,  www.lurie.northwestern.edu, and www.childrensmemorial.org

Published: December 02, 2007
Issue: December Philanthropy 07