Today marks three years since the passing of Leonard L. Silverstein, founder of the French-American Cultural Foundation. The following tribute was written by Kimberley Heatherington.
Leonard L. Silverstein
January 21, 1922 – February 14,2018
On February 14, France lost a great American friend.
An attorney, a renowned nonprofit tax expert, a generous patron of the arts, a valiant World War ll Navy veteran — Leonard Lewis Silverstein was all of these to those who knew him. But there was something else that could never be overlooked: his deep love for France.
In 1959, the New York Stock Exchange sent Mr. Silverstein on a mission that would forever change his life. Traveling to France to familiarize himself with the nation’s policy on the taxation of capital gains, he fell hopelessly in love with la belle France, as he so often referred to it. Mr. Silverstein had studied the French language before his scholarly pursuits were interrupted by World War II, but once he saw, tasted, and experienced the France he had only read about in textbooks, it was the beginning of a truly great romance.
The list of Mr. Silverstein’s appointments and memberships in the service of French culture was lengthy: President and board member of the Alliance Française, President and Founder of the French-American Cultural Foundation, board member of the French-American Foundation, Treasurer of the American Committee on the French Revolution, member of the Commanderie de Bordeaux and the Chevaliers du Tastevin.
Mr. Silverstein’s commitment to U.S. cultural organizations was just as extensive, including advisory and philanthropic activities with the National Symphony Orchestra, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the James Madison Council of the Library of Congress, the National Gallery of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the White House Historical Association, the Choral Arts Society of Washington, the Marjorie Merriweather Post Foundation, and the Rostropovich-Vishnevskaya Foundation.
When awarding Mr. Silverstein the rank of Commandeur of the Légion d’Honneur in 2015 — a distinction held by only about a thousand individuals, the vast majority of whom are French citizens — Ambassador Gérard Araud said “it is difficult to imagine a more consummate Francophile than you… You remain an inspiration to us all, one of the greatest friends that France has in this great country.”
Marcel Proust, an author Mr. Silverstein admired, once observed, “People do not die for us immediately, but remain bathed in a sort of aura of life which bears no relation to true immortality but through which they continue to occupy our thoughts in the same way as when they were alive. It is as though they were traveling abroad.”
Our friend has left us, and is now journeying in a different realm, but his heartfelt devotion to France will not soon fade from our memories.
Au revoir, cher ami!