In Remembrance of WDN Members Susan Sandler and Mary Foley Cooper, Inspirations to Us All

Susan Sandler (left) and Mary Foley Cooper (right)

On Friday and Saturday, December 16 and 17, beloved WDN members Susan Sandler and Mary Foley Cooper passed away. Many in our network had ties to at least one of them. With their passing, we have lost two dear community members whose brilliance, compassion, and dedication inspire us all. 

Susan’s 18 years with WDN formed a part of her 22-year philanthropic legacy. In addition to her decades of activism and service on numerous boards, Susan was a published author and a founder several times over, including the California Donor Table, which she co-founded in 2004 with WDN member Quinn Delaney and their partners to invest in communities of color. 

“Community organizing by people of color is the way long-term, transformational change truly happens.” – Susan Sandler

Her brain cancer diagnosis in 2016 only drove Susan to intensify her efforts to build a just and equitable society by eradicating systemic racism. In her final years, she created the Susan Sandler Fund, an enduring vehicle that grants $10 million annually to support the work of transformative leaders and organizations.

“[WDN] has an inspirational call to action – to be a multigenerational, multiracial organization creating a more just society – that serves to spur all of us to continue the work together and with our amazing grantees, partners, and collaborators.” – Mary Foley Cooper

Mary Foley Cooper, a WDN member of 14 years, passed away last Saturday from complications that resulted from a hospital procedure. Held dearly by many of you as a kind and brilliant soul, for decades, Mary worked towards positive change. She focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion during her more than 30 years in educational publishing and biotechnology and carried this lens with her into her 10 years of board service at her alma mater Manhattanville College and in her role on WDN’s Participation & Representation Steering Committee. Mary was poised to come onto the WDN Board in 2023 and had hoped to help create a bold strategic plan and deepen connection among our community of grantees, members, and partners during her tenure. 

The losses of Susan Sandler and Mary Foley Cooper are deep. They were friends, colleagues, and leaders to those working for transformative change. We cherish their memories and are emboldened by their legacies. Many WDN members shared wonderful memories about Susan and Mary on our listserv. Please read on for a few quotes.

“Susan was an excellent big-picture strategist. She could hold the vision of an equitable and just world and see the path to get there. She would never waver from that vision. We say those words a lot, but I feel with Susan, an equitable world was palpable. It was as if she could really see it and just about touch it. Then she ordered her life around that vision.” – Quinn Delaney, WDN Member

“Mary was so conscientious, sweet, bright, and kind. I will miss her. I will hold onto her goodness and carry it forward.” – Karen Grove, WDN Member

“Susan’s passing is a very heavy loss for us all and makes me more determined than ever to carry on the work and values she lived every day.” – Donna Hall, WDN President & CEO Emerita

“We are sad to lose such a kind, loving, brilliant, and active part of our community’s fabric. It’s hard to believe we just recently announced Mary’s appointment to WDN’s Board, and now this. She came ready with the passion, energy, and will to dive right in to create the next chapter together.” – Leena Barakat, WDN President & CEO

No memorial is planned at this time for Susan Sandler. Susan’s family asks that people memorialize her by doing their best to work for racial justice. We do not yet have the details for Mary Cooper’s memorial and will share them once we do.

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