“The greatest of all mistakes is to do nothing because you can only do a little. Do what you can.”
– Liz Smith
Carol Jenkins, the legendary television journalist and women’s rights advocate, introduced Liz Smith to Literacy Partners in the mid-1980s. Carol had produced a multi-part news report on the crisis of adult literacy and had joined the Board of Literacy Partners. Liz was astonished at what she learned in Carol’s report. Years later, Liz remembered her first visits to the program: “I was so impressed by what these few people were trying to do – A young man got up at the end, and he looked like a Madison Avenue Harvard Yale graduate and he said I can’t read – and I have a wonderful job and I make my wife read to me at night all of my papers and things – and I thought holy cow – we could teach this guy to read.” Thus began a lifelong personal commitment to help New Yorkers through the power of literacy education.
Liz had a career spanning close to 70 years – working for nine New York newspapers and numerous magazines, including the New York Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, Ladies Home Journal, Vogue, Sports Illustrated, Cosmopolitan, and Variety. Her column was syndicated into dozens of newspapers across the country. Liz was also widely read online at The New York Social Diary and Huffington Post, among others. She also had an 11-year stint doing celebrity commentary on WNBC’s “Live at Five,” winning an Emmy in 1985, and was the undeniable star of Fox 5’s “Good Day New York.”
Liz was loved by many – sassy with a great sense of humor, a keen insight into the human condition, and a real knack for making friends with interesting people. She also had an inspiring and humbling compassion for those less fortunate. Knowing right from wrong deep in her bones, she was never afraid to speak her mind but was always kind, fair, and judicious. She found the good in other people. And through her words, but more importantly, her actions, she has made the world a better place – and New York City a better city – particularly for those less fortunate. She dedicated herself to the cause of literacy like no one else and it is impossible to overstate the profound impact she has had on thousands of families across the City.
More than 20 years ago, Liz established the Liz Smith Fund at Literacy Partners to encourage others to join her in giving the gift of reading to their fellow New Yorkers. Over the years, several thousand concerned citizens have contributed. The Fund is accepting donations in her honor and will be used to carry her legacy forward by continuing to give low-income and immigrant families access to the basic literacy education they need to succeed in today’s world.
More than anyone else, Liz made Literacy Partners what it is today. But, she never did it alone. A few years into her work with Literacy Partners, Liz recruited her dear friends, Parker Ladd and Arnold Scaasi. Together the three of them changed the course of history for tens of thousands of families.
Liz knew that Parker would be a natural fit for Literacy Partners as a giant of the publishing industry and a lover of books and reading. With Arnold and Liz by his side, Parker was instrumental in the success of the Evening of Readings and Annual Gala Dinner Dance, the organization’s well-known annual fundraiser. Through this trio’s tireless efforts, more than $37 million was raised over 30 years in support of Literacy Partners and more than 27,000 functionally illiterate adult New Yorkers learned to read.
Among the world’s foremost fashion designers, Arnold Scaasi spent his days and nights mingling with the rich and famous, but he had profound compassion for people who had little because they couldn’t read. Arnold dressed four first ladies and his designs were beloved by dozens of movie and television stars, notably Barbra Streisand and Mary Tyler Moore, who influenced a generation of women’s fashion. Arnold joined the Literacy Partners Board of Directors in 1993 as the charismatic cohost of the annual Evening of Readings & Gala Dinner Dance—–with Liz Smith, his dear friend, and Parker Ladd, his husband and the love of his life of more than 50 years. Having grown up gay and Jewish at a time when either of those mantles could have posed significant obstacles to his career and personal life, Arnold had deep empathy for those who faced discrimination—–a sentiment that fueled his philanthropy. He was moved to action when he came to understand the lengths to which illiterate people went to cover up the shortcomings in their educations.
Parker knew that low literacy and limited English proficiency were a largely hidden epidemic in New York City, affecting both adults and their children and wanted to do something. Following the death of his beloved partner, Parker established the Scaasi-Ladd Book Fund at Literacy Partners to support our Books of Their Own home library project. Books of Their Own provides our students with 15 books per child in their home, per year, and coaches our students on making family reading a daily habit.
In creating the Fund, Parker said:
“I can’t imagine living in a home with no books, could you? Trying to raise a family with no children’s books? I have decided to do something about it by establishing the Scaasi—Ladd Book Fund so that Literacy Partners can provide a modest home library to every student they serve. Not just any books, but great works that will spark the imagination—books about art, fashion, adventure, the great novels of our time, stories that will appeal to the interests of their children and get them hooked on reading. It will change their lives.”
Literacy Partners is deeply grateful for the leadership shown by Parker and Arnold over the last 30+ years of their lives and appreciative of Parker’s visionary support in establishing the Scaasi-Ladd Book Fund. The Fund is accepting donations in his honor. All gifts will go towards providing “great works…stories that appeal…to get families hooked on reading.”