At Commencement 2004, a few weeks before his 83rd birthday, Lee Liberman graduated with a doctorate in interdisciplinary studies from the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. It was his third degree from Washington University in a decade, beginning with a master’s degree in liberal arts in 1994 from University College, followed by an honorary doctorate of humanities in 2000. For some people, this would cap a lifetime of achievement, but not for Lee. He remains involved at the University as a life trustee and former chairman of the University’s Board of Trustees, and he continues to be active in civic affairs, although he recently retired from his last corporate directorship.
A University trustee since 1975, he has contributed extraordinary leadership to the University’s fundraising efforts. In 1994, he received the William Greenleaf Eliot Society’s “Search” Award, and he currently serves on both the Art and the School of Medicine national councils. He and his wife, Ann, have been widely recognized for dedication to their community. In 2002, the University presented them with the Jane and Whitney Harris Saint Louis Community Service Award. At the ceremony, Chancellor Emeritus William H. Danforth said, “Lee and his wife, Ann, exemplify the very best of the best community boosters we have in St. Louis. They are revered as civic leaders and champions of great causes.” Ann, a native of San Antonio, Texas, and University of Texas graduate, lived in several cities before settling in St. Louis. In each area, she followed the same pattern of involvement: “I did volunteer work as a way of learning about the local community,” she says. In 1981, she was named a St. Louis Globe-Democrat Woman of Achievement—one of several notable honors the Libermans have received as individuals and together. Ann’s successes in community projects led to her being recommended for Leadership St. Louis, a program designed to create a “network of dedicated leaders who will work to influence and guide the direction of change in the St. Louis community.”
Lee received his chemical engineering degree from Yale University in 1942, intending to attend Stanford University Law School. After completing wartime service in the Army Air Corps, he took what he thought was a temporary job as an engineer at Laclede Gas in 1945. “I never made it to Stanford,” he says, but he did scale Laclede’s corporate ladder: serving as top executive for more than two decades until retiring in 1991. When he began at Laclede, the company served St. Louis City only. “I started in the coke plant,” Lee recalls. “We were not using much natural gas at that time. We were using coke gas, a byproduct of manufacturing coke. We also had a small electric facility. But we got rid of the electric business and, at the same time, bought St. Louis County Gas Company, which had been part of Union Electric.” This was one of the first steps in expanding the company’s service area. Named president of Laclede Gas in 1970, Lee became CEO in 1974 and board chairman in 1976. He also became one of the movers and shakers in St. Louis community affairs. Besides serving on several corporate boards, Lee has been deeply involved in health care in the region as chairman of The Jewish Hospital; co-chairman of its successor, Barnes-Jewish Hospital; and 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.
Lee has 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 now sits on the board of Forest Park Forever. He says, “My wife, Ann, was involved, and I told her I found the project interesting.” In 2001, he was named president. Lee, who grew up near the park, says, “We have to maintain the glory of what we’ve restored.” Lee was the man his peers turned to 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 and the Coro Foundation’s John Poelker Public Service Award in 1997.
Ann Liberman’s community involvement has been equally wide-ranging. “The organizations and boards I serve on are a reflection of my personal interests,” she says. She has served the Missouri Historical Society, the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, the Missouri Arts Council, and the St. Louis Public Library Foundation, among others. She was the first president of St. Martha’s Hall, a shelter for abused women and their children. She was named Variety Club Woman of the Year in 1986. “I became involved with Washington University because of Lee,” Ann says. “The University is a visionary place, forward-looking but with great respect for the past.” As charter member of the Architecture National Council, she pursued her interest in building design. During a visit to the Arkansas governor’s mansion, she became intrigued by regional architecture. After visiting many governors’ residences, she decided to write Governors’ Mansions of the Midwest, which was published by University of Missouri Press in 2004. Her latest book, Governors’ Mansions of the South, came out this year. The Libermans are Life Fellows of the Eliot Society and members of The Danforth Circle. Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton has praised the couple for their “remarkable generosity, compassion, and dedication. They exemplify the best qualities of service to their fellow citizens,” he says.
—John W. Hansford, Reprinted from Washington University Magazine, Fall 2008
The Liberman Graduate Center was named for Ann and Lee M. Liberman in Spring 2009.