Sunnylands mourns the passing of Vartan Gregorian, renowned humanitarian and Annenberg advisor

Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands mourns the passing of Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corp. of New York, and a trusted advisor to Sunnylands’ founders, Ambassadors Walter and Leonore Annenberg.

Mr. Gregorian, who advised Walter Annenberg in his sizeable philanthropic gifts in the field of education, helped the Annenbergs realize their goal of transforming Sunnylands, their private estate in Rancho Mirage, Calif., into a high-level retreat center and diplomatic venue. He died Thursday, April 15, in New York at the age of 87.

“It’s safe to say that the Annebergs, and Sunnylands as a whole, benefited from the wise counsel of one of the nation’s foremost scholars and humanitarians,” said David J. Lane, president of the Sunnylands trust.

Mr. Gregorian is credited with being the architect of one of Walter Annenberg’s largest philanthropic enterprises, a $500 million Challenge the Nation program that sought to finance projects aimed at promoting school reform.

Walter Annenberg once referred to Mr. Gregorian as “easily the most unique individual I have ever known.”

Vartan Gregorian and Leonore Annenberg with U.S. Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer, Sandra Day O'Connor, and Anthony Kennedy/

Participants of the 2004 U.S. Supreme Court retreat at Sunnylands included (from left) Vartan Gregorian, Justice Stephen Breyer, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Leonore Annenberg, and Justice Anthony Kennedy.

In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded Mr. Gregorian the National Humanities Medal. Six years later, President George W. Bush presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

He was a frequent guest of the Annenbergs at their homes in Rancho Mirage and Philadelphia, signing the Sunnylands guest book eight times. In 2004, he participated in a retreat for the U.S. Supreme Court at Sunnylands with justices Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Stephen Breyer in attendance.

In 2001, Mr. Gregorian was instrumental in naming Walter and Leonore Annenberg as a recipients of the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy, which is awarded by organizations founded by Andrew Carnegie, including the Carnegie Corp. of New York.

After Walter Annenberg’s death in 2002, Mr. Gregorian advised Leonore Annenberg as she moved forward with plans to preserve Sunnylands as a meeting place for world and national leaders.

“He spoke regularly with Mrs. Annenberg about the plans we were developing for Sunnylands and its programming,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and Sunnylands program director. “She valued his counsel.”