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Celebrating Quality: A Tribute to Kathleen Odne

Wednesday, June 7, 2017
"Kathleen understands that the true measure of a foundation’s value is measured by the impact of its grantees – you cannot be a high performing foundation without high performing grantees – and she does whatever she can to support their work and increase their impact." - Bob Uyeki

After a distinguished 23-year career as the Dean and Margaret Lesher Foundation's first and only Executive Director, Kathleen Odne, is retiring. At her recent celebration the CEO of the Y&H Soda Foundation, Bob Uyeki, gave a touching speech — you can read what he had to say below. 


I’m here with the privilege of representing the Contra Costa philanthropic sector, which under any other circumstances would be a role that would most certainly be fulfilled by Kathleen. Let me start by making a couple of assertions that I think everyone here will agree with:

  1. No institution has played as instrumental a role in the growth and development of the nonprofit sector in Contra Costa as the Dean and Margaret Lesher Foundation.
  2. No individual has been more responsible for creating a thriving and robust nonprofit sector in Contra Costa County as Kathleen Odne.

So it’s my great honor to be here today to celebrate two amazing institutions – the Dean and Margaret Lesher Foundation and Kathleen Odne. 

In my free time, I like to watch the English Premier League, which is the most competitive and expensive soccer league in the world. One of my favorite things about the Premier League is listening to the British announcers and their distinctive vernacular. For example, when two rival teams from the same city or region play one another – think Giants and A’s or Niners and Raiders – we call it a “crosstown rivalry.” In England, it’s called a “darby,” which is spelled D-E-R-B-Y as in “derby,” but is pronounced “darby.” When an opposing player takes a ball away from another player, in America we would say the ball is stolen, but in England the player has been “dispossessed.” It’s all so civilized and so very British.

When I was thinking about the essence of Kathleen, another British football term came to mind. When a player makes a very elegant or creative or especially difficult move or shot, the announcers will say simply, “that’s quality.” They use the word “quality” as an adjective, while in our American dictionary “quality” is a noun. For the British, there’s no need to modify that noun with additional adjectives like “high quality” or “great quality” – everyone simply understands that “quality” is a synonym for “excellence.” 

Kathleen Odne is QUALITY. Everything about her exudes excellence. She wants her grantees to be their best and do their best at serving their clients, audiences and communities. Kathleen leads by example. She is always prepared, she does all of her homework and never cuts corners (and I imagine that she does her homework with perfect penmanship while attired in crisply ironed clothes with just the right set of matching accessories!).

Kathleen understands that the true measure of a foundation’s value is measured by the impact of its grantees – you cannot be a high performing foundation without high performing grantees – and she does whatever she can to support their work and increase their impact.  

Kathleen has been instrumental in strengthening the philanthropic field in Contra Costa as well as nationally. During her tenure at the Lesher Foundation, she has served on the boards of the Council of Foundations, Northern California Grantmakers, the Association of Small Foundations/Exponent Philanthropy, and the National Center on Family Philanthropy. She also serves as an instructor at the Johnson Center on Philanthropy in Michigan and on the Advisory Board of the Sanford Institute of Philanthropy at John F. Kennedy University in Pleasant Hill. Kathleen was a founder of the Contra Costa Funders Forum more than 15 years ago and the Contra Costa Safety Net Task Force during the Great Recession. It’s quite an astounding body of work for one person, but that is Kathleen. 

Kathleen is always willing to roll up her sleeves and do the hard work; she never mails it in. If the role calls for her to exert formal leadership, she will step up. If the role calls for her to be in the background, she happily sits down. She is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion and always wants philanthropy’s work to be informed and driven by the voices and experiences of nonprofits and community members. She understands the power and privilege of philanthropy and works her hardest to minimize it.   

In addition to her vast experience with local nonprofits, Kathleen has an encyclopedic knowledge of local history, neighborhoods, and politics. She is able to examine the present circumstances and place them in the context of historical longer-term patterns of migration, displacement, and economic development in the County. She is a systems thinker who also knows volumes about best practices in nonprofit management, fundraising, board development, and program design and she uses all those tools to help us do better work. Kathleen is also a great communicator; she’s amazing at framing issues and getting people to see beyond narrow self-interest to the collective good. That’s what I mean when I speak of Kathleen as an institution. 

Through her 23 years at the Dean and Margaret Lesher Foundation, Kathleen Odne has helped to build a more diverse, inclusive, and sustainable nonprofit sector in Contra Costa. She has strengthened safety net programs, created innovative educational opportunities for children and youth, and helped to develop a thriving arts and culture sector in a region that was formerly an arts desert.     

So on behalf of all philanthropy, Kathleen, thank you for making us better through your roles as a thought leader, thought partner, governance guru, capacity builder, nonprofit advocate, bridge builder, connector, and community builder.

And on a personal note, thank you for your friendship, mentorship, and support.  You have been an amazing teacher and I am grateful to have been and to continue to be your student. 

You are quality and you have made all of us and Contra Costa quality. 

Thank you Kathleen.  

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