In Memoriam: Theodore N. Lerner

Icon and GW trustee emeritus was the patriarch of a GW family with a profound impact on the university and the D.C. region at large.

February 14, 2023

Ted Lerner

The George Washington University community deeply mourns the loss of Theodore “Ted” N. Lerner. He will be remembered not only as the founder and owner of the Washington Nationals baseball team, a philanthropist, and a real estate developer but also for his and his family’s significant impact on GW and D.C. Lerner died on Feb. 12 at 97 years old.

The son of immigrants, Lerner learned the power of an education from a young age. A member of the “Greatest Generation” and native Washingtonian, he served in the U.S. Army during World War II and, believing a college degree would make him a better provider for his family, he enrolled at GW on the G.I. Bill. Lerner earned two degrees from GW: an A.A. degree from the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences in 1948 and an LL.B. from GW Law in 1950. Working weekends to send money home, Lerner managed to graduate early and then worked to put his brother and sister through college.

Lerner and his family have embodied the GW spirit and have always been committed to building community. Lerner served for 15 years on the GW Board of Trustees, from 1986 to 2001, including on the executive committee. Three buildings on campus are named for the Lerner family: Theodore N. Lerner Hall at GW Law; the Annette and Theodore Lerner Family Health and Wellness Center; and the Lerner Family Hall at GW Hillel.

Mark S. Wrighton, GW president, said Lerner’s presence on campus will be felt well into the future.

“As an alumnus, trustee, philanthropic leader and friend of the George Washington University, Mr. Lerner provided unparalleled support, generosity and wisdom to our university—enhancing our campuses and improving the lives of countless individuals in our university and District communities,” said Wrighton. “The legacy he leaves will shape our university's trajectory for years to come.”

Lerner and wife, the former Annette Morris, were married in 1951. Together, they had one son, two daughters, nine grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Lerner was the patriarch of a true GW family with many of his relatives joining him as GW alumni, including his son, Mark David Lerner, B.B.A. ’75; daughter, Marla Lerner Tanenbaum, J.D. ’83; son-in-law, Robert “Bob” K. Tanenbaum, J.D. ’82, also a former GW trustee; and several grandchildren. Lerner’s daughter, Debra Lerner Cohen, son-in-law Edward “Ed” Cohen, and daughter-in-law, Judy Lenkin Lerner, are also friends of the university.

During GW’s bicentennial year in 2021, Lerner alongside Mark, Marla, and Bob were named among GW Monumental Alumni, the highest recognition given by the university to a graduate. It is the Lerner family’s goal to pay it forward and give back, offering others the same educational opportunities Lerner himself enjoyed.

GW Vice President Aristide Collins, chief of staff to the president and secretary of the university, said Lerner’s leadership at the university—as an engaged alumnus, trustee and donor—and in Washington, D.C., at large, as a key member of the corporate and philanthropic community, is unsurpassed.

“Mr. Lerner has been a part of GW’s history for more than three quarters of a century,” Collins said. “His passion for GW is all over the campus. Throughout the years, he set the tone for his family's leadership and engagement in the university as alumni, trustees and leaders. He was a once-in-a-generation leader who will never be forgotten. It was an honor to know him and to know the Lerner, Tanenbaum and Cohen families.” 

An endowment from Lerner’s family foundation created the Lerner Family Associate Dean for Public Interest and Public Service Law, held by Alan B. Morrison at GW Law.

“It is impossible to overstate the impact that Ted Lerner and his family have had on GW Law School,” Morrison said. “The building with the main classrooms, where I teach every week, is named for Ted Lerner in honor of his financial and moral support for his alma mater.

“From a personal perspective, the Lerner generosity created this endowed associate deanship, which has enabled me to help countless law students to satisfy their dreams of becoming lawyers to serve the greater public good,” he said. “Those students, the law school and the greater D.C. community are so much the better because of Ted Lerner and his family.”

Adena Kirstein, executive director of GW Hillel, has also been personally affected by Lerner’s generosity.

“Headlines about the loss of Ted Lerner will inevitably focus on his tremendous impact on the fabric of Washington, from shopping malls to Nats Park,” Kirstein said. “However, in my heart and for all of us here at GW Hillel, his memory will be a blessing because of the model he set in other arenas. He had a deep and lasting commitment to family, a long-term investment in building vibrant Jewish communal life, and a giving spirit that impacted many corners of our city.”

Apart from his family, the other great love of Lerner’s life was baseball. He believed a world-class city deserved a world-class baseball team. Among his proudest achievements was bringing the sport he loved back to the city he loved and leading the Washington Nationals to a World Series championship in 2019, the first since the year before he was born.

As the founder and principal of Lerner Enterprises, he used his passion for the people of D.C. and his GW education to help transform the city into the metropolis it is today, providing private homes and apartments for thousands of Washington residents and developing more than 20 million square feet of commercial and retail buildings.

In addition to his commercial projects, often in partnership with the late Albert Abramson, LL.B. ’38, Lerner was active in the planning and creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, serving as a member on its development committee and also, by presidential appointment, as a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.

Lerner, his wife, and their children have supported numerous charities through the Annette M. and Theodore N. Lerner Family Foundation. Their philanthropy has been recognized with many honors and awards.

“Ted Lerner was a truly visionary alumnus who embodied the achievement of the American dream,” said Donna Arbide, GW’s vice president of development and alumni relations. “His name is synonymous with not just business success but with utmost integrity and exceedingly generous philanthropy. He and Annette’s indelible impact have made a difference in countless lives, and we are forever grateful for the mark they have made on the GW community.”