Obituary: Lee M. Liberman, life trustee, 91

Lee M. Liberman, life trustee and former chair of the Washington University Board of Trustees, died Friday, Aug. 31, 2012, in St. Louis. He was 91.

“As chancellor, I feel fortunate to have served during the tenure of our distinguished Life Trustee Lee M. Liberman,” said Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. “Lee was a trusted friend and adviser to both me and my predecessor, Bill Danforth. He served as a trustee for nearly four decades and was a key contributor to Washington University’s tremendous rise in quality and impact. He will be deeply missed and my thoughts are with Ann and the entire Liberman family during this difficult time.”

An outstanding university and St. Louis community leader, Liberman had served on the Board of Trustees since 1975, including serving as chair from 1988 to 1993.

Over the years, he was a member of many of the board’s committees, including the executive, buildings and grounds, compensation, development, medical finance, university finance, and nominating and governance committees, among several others. He also served as a member of the national councils for both the medicine and art schools.

The university awarded Liberman the William Greenleaf Eliot Society’s “Search” Award in 1994 and an honorary doctorate of humanities in 2000. In 2002, the university presented Liberman and his wife, Ann, with the Jane and Whitney Harris St. Louis Community Service Award.

Liberman was a Life Fellow of the Eliot Society and a member of The Danforth Circle. The Liberman Graduate Center in the Danforth University Center was named for Ann and Lee M. Liberman in spring 2009.

A consummate student, he earned a doctorate in interdisciplinary studies from Washington University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences in 2004, just a few weeks before his 83rd birthday. He earned a master’s degree in liberal arts from the graduate school in 1994.

“Lee was an educated person and believed fervently in education, and this was his focus as he exercised his responsibility as a trustee,” saystrustee emeritus and Olin School Dean Emeritus Robert L. Virgil. “Through his committee roles and as the board’s chair, he brought his critical and powerful intellect to the issues of the day. I remember the Commencement moment when he was awarded the PhD — how proud he was and how wildly his fellow graduates and colleagues cheered. This always will be one of my fondest Washington University memories.”

Liberman earned a chemical engineering degree from Yale University in 1942, intending to attend Stanford University Law School. After completing war-time service in the Army Air Corps, he took what he thought was a temporary job as an engineer at Laclede Gas in 1945, where he proceeded to scale the corporate ladder, serving as the company’s top executive for more than two decades until retiring in 1994.

Named president of Laclede Gas in 1970, he became chief executive officer in 1974 and board chairman in 1976.

He also became one of the most influential leaders in the St. Louis community. Besides serving on a number of corporate boards, Liberman was deeply involved in health care in the region as chairman of Jewish Hospital, co-chairman of its successor, Barnes-Jewish Hospital, and later a director of BJC HealthCare.

He was also co-chairman of the St. Louis Health Care Alliance, which established the St. Louis Regional Medical Center after the closure of St. Louis City Hospital.

He held leadership roles in a long list of cultural organizations and institutions as well, from the Arts & Education Council and the Boy Scouts to the Saint Louis Symphony Society and the Saint Louis Zoo. He was a moving force behind the creation of the zoo’s private foundation and of ARCHS (Area Resources for Community and Human Services). He served as president of the board of Forest Park Forever.

Liberman was known as a man to whom his peers turned whenever an organization needed help. For his efforts, he was named 1986 St. Louis Man of the Year and 1990 St. Louis Variety Club Man of the Year.

He received the Right Arm of St. Louis Award from the Regional Commerce and Growth Association in 1991, the Coro Foundation’s John Poelker Public Service Award in 1997, the Mental Health Association of St. Louis’ Silver Bell Award and the RCGA Schnuck Labor/Management Award, both in 1990, the Hospital Association of St. Louis Healthcare Leadership Award in 1984, and the 1976 Distinguished Eagle Award from the Boy Scouts of America, St. Louis Chapter.

“No one was smarter, wiser, or a more helpful friend, and no one did more for this community and its institutions than Lee Liberman,” says Chancellor Emeritus William H. Danforth. “I saw especially close his contributions to strengthening Washington University, Barnes-Jewish Hospital and BJC HealthCare. St. Louis will miss him as will I.”

He is survived by his wife, Ann; daughters Alise (Dennis) O’Brien and Celia (Tim) Hosler; son James; and stepsons Peter and Andrew Medler. A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20, in Graham Chapel.