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Aug. 5, 1919 - Oct. 5, 2013
Local philanthropist Leila Gompertz died on October 5, 2013, at Heartland South in Sarasota, Fl., with her trusted caregiver Betty Cole at her side. Leila was born on August 5, 1919, to Max and Anne Small in New Haven, Connecticut. When she was young, her friend Ursula Pearson, who later lived next door to her at Sarasota Bay Club, and last year turned 101, was her babysitter. She went to Wellesley College at age 16, a difficult choice for her family because of the depression.
After graduating from Wellesley in 1939, she attended Columbia University and got a Masters in Mathematics. This was a rare choice for a woman at that time. She then lived in Washington, DC and worked for the Social Security Administration.
In 1945 she returned to New Haven to have her son, Steven. Work for women was scarce and she labored at jobs that didn't value her abilities. She then worked for her husband Mike in the Gompertz printing business. When Mike retired in 1977, they moved full time to Sarasota, living at Seaplace on Longboat Key. Always involved with good works, Leila dove into charities with vigor. She worked for the local Red Cross, Women's Legal Fund, and United Way. In 1980, she was one of the founders of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. They hired Stewart Stearns as their first employee in 1988, even though they didn't have the money to pay him.
For the next 18 years she volunteered for the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, seeing it grow to its current size, raising a lot of its money herself, with Tom Waters to help her. When the Foundation wanted to build its new headquarters, she gave them the money for the land. When the board was arguing over how to raise money for the building, she doubled her contribution so they could build it without debt.
She also believed deeply in Planned Parenthood, giving them the money to begin their new headquarters as well. Barbara Zdravecky, its leader, was always a good friend. Likewise, when Florida Studio Theatre had a chance to buy the old Theatre Works building, she was there to help buy it. All those agencies have given the buildings her name.
Kay Glasser, whose innovative complex houses, numerous non-profits, named a building after her in honor of her Women's Legal Fund support. These actions led to both the City and County of Sarasota proclaiming days in her honor. Leila also received a prestigious award of Philanthropist of the Year from the Association of Fundraising Professionals .
After Mike died in 1999, Leila went on numerous trips with her son Steven and his longtime partner, Deborah Fitzgerald, to the San Francisco Bay Area and Europe. On one occasion, she rendezvoused with her friends Carol and Carroll Buchanan at a train station in Italy for a four hour lunch, and they remained close friends.
In 2004, she began to suffer from what was apparently Alzheimer's disease, but she still stayed active. She had moved to Sarasota Bay Club in 2004 and stayed there until she had to move to Heartland in 2010. All the time she spent at SBC was active, including cultural events like the Wellesley Club, Sarasota Ballet, FST and other local theatres, Planned Parenthood, and the West Coast School for Human Development.
Leila is survived by her son, Steven Gompertz, and his partner Deborah Fitzgerald; her four cousins, Betsy Barnston, with whom she was very close and who was regarded as a younger sister, Ned Harrison, Margie Gilbert, and Barry Shore; and numerous other family members.
There will be no funeral. Please contribute on her behalf to the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Planned Parenthood, or a
. If you would like to support Neuroscience, as Leila did, think about donating your brain to the National Brain Bank. It can increase our knowledge of how we work and how to treat diseases of the brain, and has no impact on funeral plans (www.brainbank.med.miami.edu).
There will be a celebration of Leila's life in Sarasota in early December. Please contact Steven Gompertz at email@example.com or 707-825-9056 for details.
Published in Herald Tribune from Oct. 9 to Oct. 14, 2013