James Armsey, 90, behind the scenes public broadcasting pioneer

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From The New York Times

James W. Armsey, a former Ford Foundation executive who directed more than $350 million in grants to universities in the 1960s while prompting the foundation to deny grants to segregated universities, died on Nov. 2 at his home in Urbana, Ill. He was 90.

From 1956 through 1975, Mr. Armsey held several high-ranking positions at the foundation, including assistant to the president and director of its programs in higher education, public broadcasting and journalism. In all, he oversaw $497 million in foundation grants.


  1. Michael Ambrosino on November 20, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    In the fifties, Jim Armsey could grant up to $15,000 of Ford Foundation funds on his signature alone. Hartford Gunn, General Manager of WGBH made good use of Jim’s freedom as we visited him to seek money to begin “The 21″ Classroom,” school broadcasting for the state of Massachusetts, and later in the early sixties for the initial capital to create the Eastern Educational Network.

    During the visits, Jim would listen carefully, ask how we intended to make our projects self supporting and sustaining and then would tell us just how much to ask for. Our ensuing proposals were only a few pages long and for sums like $14,950.

    It was a different world then. ETV was poor, black and white, and in danger of foundering. These small grants enhanced our ability to grow, organize, support each other and become the major enterprise that is now Public Broadcasting.

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