A champion of cities and the urban underclass as a planner, government official, foundation executive and educator, Paul Ylvisaker brought educational distinction to his public appointments and a hard won understanding of the realities of urban poverty to his academic work.
Lured from the Blue Earth County, Minnesota Council on Intergovernment Relations to Harvard in 1944, Ylvisaker spent ten years in academia before working for the Mayor of Philadelphia and then the Ford foundation where he put his ideas to work. As the creator of the Gray Areas Program at the Ford Foundation, Ylvisaker oversaw the allocation of more than $200 million in grants and altered the lives of citizens in cities throughout the United States.
These efforts led to major Kennedy and Johnson administration innovations, including the Community Action Program and the Model Cities Program, contributing enormously to the lives of citizens in the America's poorest urban communities. His tenure at Ford also led him to India and Japan where he worked on urban planning projects.
A man of ideas of programs, Ylvisaker was also a man of action and courage. New Jersey Governor Richard J. Hughes appointed Ylvisaker to head a new "Office of Community Affairs" to implement some of the programs he had developed in America's "most urban state." Soon after he took office in 1967, riots erupted in Newark killing 26 people. In the aftermath, the National Guard and State Police were called in to conduct a house-to house search for weapons. Fearing that the presence of the four armored personnel carriers, mounted with machine guns and soldiers with bayoneted rifles would lead to more violence, Ylvisaker ran in front of the carriers and stopped the convoys. After the vehicles halted, he negotiated with the military forces and prevailed upon them to continue their search, minus the armored personnel carriers and with less "obvious" weaponry.
In the early 70s, Ylvisaker returned to academia, first at Yale and Princeton before becoming dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE). During his time at Harvard, he redefined HGSE's mission to explore new avenues of theory and infused history and philosophy in each of HGSE's areas of competency. Ylvisaker also sought to increase the number of women and minority students at Harvard. He used his post as the C.W. Eliot professor to teach ethics and philanthropy until 1992, long after his service as Dean.
Ylvisaker's teachings, writings and mentoring about the field and of philanthropy inspired then-CEO James A. Joseph to bring Ylvisaker on as a Senior Consultant to the Council on Foundations in 1982. For the next ten years, until his death in 1992, he continued his work examining family philanthropy and the larger role of philanthropy in civil society. Ylvisaker's thoughtful and strategic work in the philanthropic community earned him the 1990 Council on Foundations Distinguished Grantmaker Award. Today, we honor his work with the Paul Ylvisaker Award for Public Policy Engagement.
"Paul Ylvisaker: A Biographical Profile." Excerpt from Conscience and Community, edited by Virginia M. Esposito, President, National Center for Family Philanthropy.
* Portions excerpted from the John F. Kennedy School of Government 1998 Alumni Achievement Awards, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA