Larry Foster, a Penn State alumnus and prominent 20th century public relations figure known as the “Father of Philanthropy” at his alma mater, died Thursday.
Foster, whose generosity and fundraising efforts helped change the university’s approach to philanthropy, was 88.
“It was Larry, and a handful of others, who strongly advocated that the university more actively and strategically engage our alumni family in fundraising,” Rod Kirsch, senior vice president for development and alumni relations, said in a statement. “He was passionate, visionary and generous, serving Penn State tirelessly over many decades.
“Much of Penn State’s success in alumni support can be traced to Larry’s early encouragement and involvement,” Kirsch said. “We have lost a great Penn Stater.”
Foster served three terms on the Penn State board of trustees in the 1980s and before that was elected president of the Penn State Alumni Association in 1972.
He was named a Distinguished Alumnus in 1979 and received the 1999 Lion’s Paw Award for service to the university, Penn State said.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Foster graduated from Penn State in 1948 with a journalism degree and worked at newspapers until joining Johnson & Johnson in 1957 to form the company’s first public relations department.
Foster helped steer the company through crisis in 1982 when seven people in Chicago died after ingesting Tylenol laced with cyanide.
He was named as one of the 10 most influential public relations professionals of the 20th century by PRWeek magazine.
Ralph Larsen, former Johnson & Johnson chairman and CEO said an in email to employees, “Larry Foster was a man of integrity and extraordinarily good judgment. He played a vital role during his lifetime career at Johnson & Johnson.”
Much of Foster’s support was directed toward the College of Communications. He and his wife, Ellen, provided funds to endow the Larry and Ellen Foster professorship in writing and editing and to support the twice-a-year Foster-Foreman Conference of Distinguished Writers. They also provided the lead gift to establish the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication, which is housed in the College of Communications.
Foster also helped fund building improvements and scholarships for the college.
“Any words to try to summarize the Fosters’ impact would be an understatement,” Dean Doug Anderson said in the university’s statement. “Larry and Ellen have, through their personal generosity, supported students, faculty, programs and facilities. The spectrum of their impact is incredible.”
“Larry truly is the godfather of the College of Communications,” Anderson said in an email to faculty.