By Jan Worth-Nelson
William S. White has retired from his post as chief executive officer of the C.S. Mott Foundation, and Raquel Thueme has been appointed to succeed Handy L. Lindsey as president of the Ruth Mott Foundation, according to recent announcements from two of the city’s most influential benefactors.
Both foundations are outgrowths of shared family ties deeply rooted in Flint and legacies of the automotive industry in its prime — C.S. Mott being one of the city’s auto pioneers, and Ruth Mott his fourth wife.
White, whose late wife Claire was the granddaughter of C.S. Mott, has been at the Foundation for nearly five decades. He announced the transition in a signed letter with many personal touches sent through email Nov. 13. White’s son, Ridgway, who has been at the Foundation since 2002 and president since 2015, has been approved by the Mott board of trustees to be CEO as well, William White stated.
Quoting the Bible verse, “To everything there is a season,” White wrote that while he is stepping back from the day-to-day operations of the Foundation, he will continue, without compensation, as chairman of the board. He said his son “brings vigor, energy, and insight to the challenges we face.”
Ridgway White, 39, is the fourth head of the Mott Foundation, succeeding C.S. Mott himself; his son C.S. Harding Mott; and William White, Harding Mott’s son-in-law. Ridgway White is C.S. Mott’s great-grandson. The foundation started in 1926 with a $320,000 endowment which has grown to $3 billion and distributes grants to 60 countries and the U.S.
Thueme, 56, has been vice president of programs at the Ruth Mott Foundation since 2011 and has played a central role in developing the Foundation’s north Flint focus. With nearly 30 years’ experience in the nonprofit sector, Thueme was selected by the board of trustees after a national search.
“Raquel has the spirit, integrity and skills needed to maintain the momentum occurring in north Flint,” said Ruth Mott Foundation trustee Lawrence E. Moon. “She’s a proven leader who has committed herself to listening to the people who live and work here.”
A product of the Detroit Public School and Cranbrook schools on scholarship, Thueme went to to get a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a master’s degree from the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor. The youngest of seven, Thueme was the only child in her family born in the U.S. after her family moved to Michigan from Mexico in 1961.
Her executive experience includes four years as president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit and seven years at Trinity Health in Novi. Prior to coming to the Ruth Mott Foundation, she spent four years in China while her husband was on an international assignment from General Motors.
As president, in addition to commitments to north Flint, Thueme will oversee community programs delivered at Applewood, the estate of Charles Stewart Mott.
Ridgway White began his tenure at Mott as an intern in 2002 and was hired as a program assistant two years later. After working his way up the ranks, White’s account described, he served as the Foundation’s vice president for special projects and chair of the management working group from 2011 until he became president in January, 2015.
His father pointed out that Ridgway took the Mott Foundation reins as the Flint water crisis was unfolding, and that he immediately committed $4 million to close a budget shortfall preventing the state and city from taking crucial first steps to bring safe drinking water back. In succeeding months, the Mott Foundation committed up to $100 million to the city’s water recovery efforts.
“Based on his deep affection for the city of Flint, I’m sure C.S. would be pleased to see that supporting the community we call home is still one of the Foundation’s top priorities,” William White wrote. The Foundation has wide national and international reach as well, he pointed out, in particular supporting community schools and after school programming. The 21st Century Community Learning Centers Initiative, he said, serves 1.7 million children nationwide.
[The history of the Mott Foundation’s involvement with education — launching Flint in the 1930s and beyond as a much-recognized national center for community education and then affected by changes in the foundation’s priorities in the 1960s, along with school district gerrymandering, are being freshly examined and discussed in several local reading groups based on the book Demolition Means Progress by Andrew Highsmith. The recent revival of the Community Schools program in the Flint Public Schools, funded by the Mott Foundation and managed by the Crim Fitness Foundation, looks somewhat like a re-commitment to that venerable 20th Century Flint model. In March, 2017, the Mott Foundation issued a statement available here strongly disagreeing with some of Highsmith’s contentions.]
Ridgway White’s leadership tenure has been associated with many other local initiatives, particularly private/public partnerships. Footprints of Mott influence can be seen in almost every corner of the city, including restoration of the Capitol Theatre; support for the recent expansion of the Flint Institute of Arts; contribution to the renovation of the Woodside Church/Lenore Croudy Family Life Center at Mott Community College; and a $35 million contribution to construction of the Flint Cultural Center Academy.
In the interest of full disclosure, at present the C.S. Mott Foundation supports East Village Magazine to the tune of $30,000/year, about a third of the publication’s budget.
The Ruth Mott Foundation recently announced distribution of $1.9 million in grants to 25 north Flint projects, and is calling for proposals for another round of grants, the third of the year, with the total distributed in the city this year expected to total about $5 million.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.