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Leading philanthropist dies at 94


Walter Annenberg, in a 1995 photo. (Douglas Kirkland)

Walter Annenberg, in a 1995 photo. (Douglas Kirkland)

PHILADELPHIA, Oct. 2 — Walter H. Annenberg, the billionaire founder of TV Guide, former ambassador to Great Britain and benefactor of many Philadelphia institutions died Tuesday at the age of 94. His wife, Leonore, was with him when he died. Annenberg, who gave to many charities and endowed two leading journalism schools, died at his home in Wynnewood of complications from pneumonia, according to Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. “Philadelphia lost one its most distinguished citizens this week,” said Harold Goldman, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, noting that Annenberg gave generously to Jewish causes, including a $15 million gift to Operation Exodus in 1990 to bring Russian Jews to Israel. “I hope that our community will continue to live up to his example. We have lost a truly great man.” The only son of Moses and Sadie Annenberg, Walter Annenberg was born on March 13, 1908, in Milwaukee, the sixth of nine children. Fortune magazine estimated Annenberg’s wealth earlier this year to be in the neighborhood of $4 billion. After attending the Peddie School, a prep school near Trenton, N.J., and a brief one-year stint at the Wharton School at Penn, in 1928 Annenberg sought his fortune playing the stock market, where he had already established a portfolio worth over $2 million. But the crash of 1929 ended Annenberg’s speculative efforts when his wealth was reduced to nothing and he found himself $400,000 in debt. Annenberg was bailed out by his father and was given ownership of the family’s publishing properties when Moses Annenberg died in 1942; those properties included The Philadelphia Inquirer and two racing publications under the Triangle Publications banner. Three years later, in 1945, Annenberg added WFIL radio to his Philadelphia properties. He later created WFIL-TV, now WPVI-TV (Channel 6). He purchased the Daily News in 1957, forever linking the fortunes of the tabloid and the Inquirer, both of which were sold in 1969. In 1953, Annenberg created TV Guide. As a philanthropist, many of Annenberg’s donations were unequaled both in their size and their frequency. Shortly after the Six-Day War broke out in June 1967, Annenberg gave $1 million to the upstart Israel Emergency Fund of the Federation of Jewish Agencies (the forerunner to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia), earning him that agency’s first Humanitarian Award. Over the years, Annenberg gave in excess of $30 million to Federation, including a $10 million gift to Operation Moses in 1984. In the field of higher education, Annenberg’s commitment was particularly strong. He gave the University of Pennsylvania $3 million in 1958 to create the Annenberg School for Communications. He established another Annenberg School in 1971, this time at University of Southern California. Over the years, he reaffirmed those commitments. And on a single day in 1993, he announced $120 million gifts to both Penn and USC, a $100 million gift to the Peddie School and a $25 million award to Harvard University. Most recently on Sept. 19, the Annenberg Foundation announced a $100 million endowment to both the Annenberg School at Penn and the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. A noted art connoisseur, Annenberg gave a collection of Impressionist and early modern masterpieces valued at $1 billion to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1991. In September of last year, a $20 million gift to the Philadelphia Museum of Art by Annenberg and his wife set a record for charitable gifts to the 125-year-old institution. A favorite friend of Republican politicians and British royalty, Annenberg was appointed ambassador to the Court of St. James by President Richard Nixon in 1969. Despite a lack of experience in foreign policy, when he left the post in 1972, The New York Times reported that he left “with British press much kinder [to him] than when he arrived.” A winner of many awards, Annenberg received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Ronald Reagan in 1986. Annenberg leaves behind a wife, the former Leonore Rosenstiel, of 51 years and three daughters, numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.