Washington, DC — Leonard H. Robinson, Jr., president and CEO of the Africa Society, a leading Washington D.C.-based advocacy group, died early Tuesday at Washington Hospital Center following a short illness.
"Leonard was simply one of the finest individuals I have ever met," said Judith McHale, president and CEO of Discovery Communications and vice chair of the Africa Society Board. "He was a true servant of the public, whose leadership and dedication changed lives on two different continents," she said in one of a number of tributes that poured in as news circulated of Robinson's unexpected death, which his family said was caused by complications from a kidney infection. He was 63.
"Another strong voice for Africa was silenced today," said C. Payne Lucas, a close friend and president emeritus of Africare. "He was committed to making Africa a full partner in the global community."
Robinson served two terms as deputy assistant secretary of State for Africa during a career in international relations that spanned four decades, dating from his tenure as a Peace Corps volunteer in India from 1964 to 1967. At age 23, he was
named as the associate director for India for the Peace Corps, where he later became director of minority recruitment.
From 1983-1984 during the Reagan administration, Robinson oversaw economic and commercial policy at the State Department. When he returned to the Africa Bureau in 1990, he coordinated U.S. policy toward west and central Africa and directed U.S. diplomatic efforts to end Liberia's civil war, until President George H.W. Bush left office in early 1994. For six years between his State Department postings, Robinson served as president of the U.S. African Development Foundation, which was established by Congress in 1981 to provide small-scale assistance to community-based organizations and grassroots enterprises throughout Africa. During his tenure, annual Congressional appropriations for the foundation rose from U.S.$1 million to $17 million.
In 1997, Robinson established the LHR International Group, a consulting firm that provided U.S. foreign policy analysis for African and Asian leaders and governments. That year, he was named to the board of the newly created National Summit on Africa, which was initiated with funding from the Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York to build support for Africa in the United States. He was named president of the organization in 1999, prior to the conference held in Washington, DC in February 2000, which attracted 8,000 participants from across the country.
In 2001, Robinson spearheaded the creation of the Africa Society to carry on the Summit's mission and strengthen public awareness and support for Africa. "Leonard gave everything he had to the Africa Society, and to the continent of Africa for over 30 years," said Bernadette Paolo, vice president and co-founder of the Africa Society. "He contributed his brilliance, passion, and visionary leadership. He was our founder, our inspiration and our star. Leonard's life meant a great deal to countless numbers of Americans and Africans who benefited from his work. His memory will serve to move us forward on our mission to educate all Americans about Africa."
According to Rep. Donald Payne, the ranking Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations, who has worked closely with Robinson and Paolo on a number of initiatives: "Leonard drew upon his extensive experience in the public and private sectors to make the National Summit a success and to turn the Africa Society into one of the leading Africa advocacy groups on Capitol Hill."
Robinson propelled the Africa Society into a powerful voice in policy circles, Lucas said. "He believed that people could and would overcome centuries of economic and political impoverishment and geographic and social isolation by getting to know each other and by working cooperatively to resolve seemingly intractable problems."
Born in North Carolina, Robinson earned a BA from Ohio State University and did graduate studies at the State University of New York, Binghamton, the American University and Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He received two honorary doctoral degrees and taught African Studies at the University of Massachusetts. In 2004, he was appointed the first Diplomat Scholar in Residence at the University of Virginia. He has been listed in Who's Who in America since 1985 and was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Robinson is survived by two daughters, Rani Robinson of Washington, DC, Kemberley Robinson of Houston, Texas, his mother, Winnie T. Robinson of Durham, North Carolina, and a brother, Dr. Michael Robinson of Los Angeles, California.
A memorial service will be held on August 15 at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC at 10:30 am. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young, who is chair emeritus of the Africa Society board, is scheduled to deliver the eulogy.
The family requests contributions be made to the "Leonard H. Robinson, Jr. Endowment" in support of the Africa Society "as a living testimony of all that Leonard sought to achieve."
Discovery Communications "has lost a dear friend and partner, but our commitment to deepening the understanding between the people of Africa and the United States remains unbounded," McHale said. "This is what Leonard would have wanted."
For more information about the memorial service and the endowment, visit the Africa Society web site.