by Cynthia Cherrey, President & CEO, International Leadership Association
14 April 2021
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In March we lost one of the founders of the International Leadership Association. Larraine Matusak, leadership thought leader and visionary, passed away on 26 March with ILA member Roger Sublett and his wife Cindy by her side.
Larraine has left a legacy far beyond all of us that will echo through generations and decades to come. The ILA was one of her legacies. Larraine saw what was needed to establish the field of leadership — the funding to jumpstart programs, initiatives, and organizations — so she persisted in getting the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to fund leadership programs. A five-year grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation brought together, for the first time, leadership scholars and scholarly practitioners from different disciplines to meet each other and periodically convene at the University of Maryland where they shared ideas and wrote together. A follow-up “Meeting of the Minds” gathering — a prequel to ILA’s global conferences — was held at the University of Southern California between those who study leadership and those who practice leadership. From these gatherings and shared inquiry, the ILA was created in 1999 to keep the leadership conversation going and growing. Larraine, along with fellow ILA Founders Georgia Sorenson and James MacGregor Burns made this happen.
Larraine has a long list of accomplishments and was honored as an ILA Lifetime Achievement Award recipient in 2015. Her belief in others will have a lasting impact. “Wherever Dr. Matusak has served as a leader in higher education or philanthropy she has transformed organizations and people,” Roger Sublett, ILA member and prior board member, emphasized when commenting on Larraine’s commitment to leader and leadership development. Her accomplishments are many and we are all beneficiaries of her role as an influencer in the field of leadership. Another ILA member, Juana Bordas, wrote this moving tribute to Larraine’s lasting legacy and impact on her life.
“Way back before the equity and inclusion movement, Larraine’s magnanimous soul understood that real leaders have an open and caring spirit. Decades ago, she saw that a new leadership paradigm was emerging where the table would be wider and more colorful. She didn’t just believe this — she looked for it, and then she pushed the door wide open to make it happen.
Larraine was the architect of the myriad leadership programs at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which under her guidance was the premiere source of leadership innovation and funding in this arena.
She assured me way back then that preparing Latinas for leadership was sorely needed in our nation. Larraine is not just the godmother of Latina Leadership there are countless of organizations — including the International Leadership Association — that exist today because of her advocacy, support, and brokering of resources and funding. She seeded the leadership field.
As a brilliant thought leader, Larraine wanted to uplift leadership theory and practice and created The Kellogg Leadership Scholars. It was then that her piercing question: Leadership for What? became a mantra. What is the purpose of leadership? What is the end game?
And why, you might ask, is her question so pivotal? Well, because there is no genre for leadership in libraries and universities, it is listed under business where most of the writing, training, and resources can be found.
For Larraine, leadership was to cultivate a society that promotes the common good and where ordinary citizens become leaders. Her book Finding your Voice became a handbook for this kind of leadership. She saw in me what I could not see.
And so today as we celebrate the life of one of the great ones, we ponder her question, “Leadership for What?” And we say to her, leadership is about a life spent to uplift humanity, to love and nurture people, to leave a legacy to follow.
In many old cultures when great leaders enter the spirit world, it is said their essence stays with the people whose lives they touched. They depart to help their people from a higher ground. And so, it is with our beloved sister, guide, and North star. Leadership for What? Leadership is to a life like Larraine Matusak.” — Juana Bordas, ILA Lifetime Achievement recipient, 2019.
To celebrate her many accomplishments there will be a session at the ILA 2021 global conference.
A memorial service is planned for 3 p.m. EDT on Saturday 1 May and will be livestreamed. It may be viewed at https://vimeo.com/530470567.
In lieu of flowers contributions can be made to one or more of the following.
- The ILA Founders Fund, online at https://ila.memberclicks.net/donate#/ International Leadership Association, 8601 Georgia Ave., Suite 1010, Silver Spring, MD 20910;
- The Matusak Courageous Leadership Award with the Alliance of Leadership Fellows, 5334 Bordley Drive, Houston, TX 77056;
- The Humane Society of South Central Michigan, 2400 Watkins Road, Battle Creek, MI 49015; and
- Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan, 7100 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo, MI 49009.
Cynthia Cherrey, President & CEO, International Leadership Association