Strachan Donnelley, a conservationist and philosopher who founded and led the Center for Humans and Nature, as well as helping to sustain numerous educational, cultural and environmental organizations and institutions including Sarah Lawrence College, died on Saturday, July 12 in New York. He was 66 years old.
A member of the College’s Board of Trustees from 1981–89, Donnelley was named Honorary Member of the Board in 1994. One of the College’s most generous benefactors, his many contributions to Sarah Lawrence included support for student financial aid, the Alice Ilchman Science Center, the Campbell Sports Center, and most recently the College’s LEED certified Heimbold Visual Arts Center. Perhaps even more important, his passion and devotion to environmental ethics helped to inform and inspire his fellow Trustees, raising the College’s environmental consciousness.
“As much as his gifts to the College enhanced Sarah Lawrence’s ability to extend financial aid to deserving students and to enhance the physical plant, Strachan Donnelley’s legacy goes far deeper,” said Margot Bogert, who served on the Board with Donnelley. “He made sure we understood the significance of the environment and its impact on society, long before being green enjoyed the high profile it does today.”
Great grandson of R.R. Donnelley, founder of the worldwide printing and communications services firm R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company, son of Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley, Strachan Donnelley was vice-chair and former chair of the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation and served on several boards, including The University of Chicago, the New School University, the National Humanities Center, Yale University's Institute for Biospheric Studies, The Land Institute, and the American Museum of Natural History's Center for Biodiversity and Conservation.
In 2002 he founded The Center for Humans and Nature, an independent, non-partisan, non-profit organization with offices in New York City, Chicago, Columbia, South Carolina, and Baraboo, Wisconsin. Under his leadership, the Center produced innovative work on the ethics of the relationships of human communities and the natural world, including issues in animal science, animal biotechnology, biologically informed worldviews of Charles Darwin and Aldo Leopold, agricultural biotechnology, urban regional planning, and animal reintroductions into nature. From 1998 to 2002, Mr. Donnelley was head of the Humans and Nature program at the Hastings Center, a leading research and educational institution based in Garrison, New York, which he had joined in 1985.
Karen R. Lawrence, president of Sarah Lawrence College said in a message to the College community: “I had the privilege to meet and correspond with Strachan over the past year, and I came to know him as a compassionate and sincere person, fiercely devoted to social justice and a moral and civic vision of the interactions between humanity and Nature broadly defined.”
Donnelley graduated with a B.A. in English literature from Yale University in1964, studied philosophy at University College, Oxford University, from 1964 to1967, and received an M.A. in philosophy from the New School for Social Research in1972. He was awarded a Ph.D. in philosophy at the Graduate Faculty, the New School for Social Research in 1977. His dissertation on Alfred North Whitehead, "The Living Body: Organisms and Value," earned New School's Alfred Schutz and Max Lerner Awards.
The Donnelley family has long been a pillar of Sarah Lawrence College. Gaylord Donnelley, father of Strachan, served on the College’s Board of Trustees from 1965 to 1973. Strachan Donnelley’s sister, Laura Donnelley, an alumna, served on the Board from 1999-2006. Her two daughters as well as two cousins are also graduates.
Strachan Donnelley is survived by his wife, Vivian, and five daughters.