The Boston Foundation names Dr. M. Lee Pelton as next President and CEO

Pelton, President of Emerson College since 2011, will join the Boston Foundation effective June 1, 2021

December 1, 2020

Lee Pelton
M. Lee Pelton, President of Emerson College, will be the new President and CEO of the Boston Foundation, effective June 1, 2021.
Watch the video announcing Dr. Pelton's selection

Boston – The Boston Foundation is proud to announce the selection of Dr. M. Lee Pelton as its new President and Chief Executive Officer. Pelton comes to the Foundation from a distinguished 30-year career in higher education, most recently as President of Emerson College.  He begins his term on June 1, 2021, succeeding Paul S. Grogan, who has served in the role for nearly 20 years, and will continue as President and CEO until the transition.  

“I want to offer my deepest thanks and appreciation to the Boston Foundation’s Directors, and to the remarkable Paul Grogan,” said Pelton. “The Boston Foundation has no equal, and I am deeply honored by the Board of Directors’ faith in my capacity to continue to grow its mission, and to lead the Foundation in addressing the challenges facing our city and region, promoting a just and equitable recovery from the pandemic and a long-overdue racial reckoning so we can build and sustain a vital, prosperous city and region, where justice and opportunity are extended to all.”  

Pelton was selected after a thorough months-long search that included input and feedback from the many constituencies of the Boston Foundation and the Greater Boston community.  “Lee’s experience as a strong, seasoned leader who has innovated and managed in times of change uniquely places him to lead The Boston Foundation into a new era,” said J. Keith Motley, the Boston Foundation Director who co-chaired the CEO search committee. “His enthusiasm for our mission, along with a skill set that readily embraces the full range of what we do, makes him a strong choice to lead The Boston Foundation as our next president.” 

The search committee conducted a national search to find candidates who demonstrated strategic thinking and appreciation for the challenges that face our city and region, and who had proven ability to lead on issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion, and experience running complex organizations. “Lee’s experience is impressive, but what spoke to me most was his determination to use all his skills in service of the causes he cares about and to help The Boston Foundation build a better Boston – to call everyone in and leave no one out.  In Lee, I believe we have found an outstanding leader for this critical moment in our city’s history,” said Linda Mason, chair of The Boston Foundation’s Board of Directors.  

“Lee Pelton is a rare talent – a strong, respected voice and a force for social justice in Boston and beyond. He’s been a great partner and friend to the Foundation during my time as President and CEO,” said Paul Grogan. “I can’t imagine a better fit for the Boston Foundation as it enters its next era of work. The Boston Foundation Board could not have made a better choice.”

“Lee Pelton is a rare talent – a strong, respected voice and a force for social justice in Boston and beyond. I can’t imagine a better fit for the Boston Foundation as it enters its next era of work."

-Paul S. Grogan
President and CEO

Throughout his career, Dr. Pelton has worked to address social justice issues. A common theme in his lectures, speeches and writing has been to ask us “to share our talents and resources with those who have not had the good fortune to participate in the bounty of life.” Pelton grew up in Wichita, Kansas, where he graduated from Wichita State University.  He left Kansas to earn a Ph.D. in 19th century English and American Literature and Languages at Harvard University. He taught English and American literature at Harvard and served as what is now called a residential dean of Winthrop House. Later, Lee served on the Harvard Board of Overseers and as a vice-chair of its executive committee. After Harvard, he served as Dean of the College at Colgate University and Dartmouth College before serving for 13 years as the president of Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. Lee became president of Emerson College on July 1, 2011. 

“Lee’s leadership has been transformational to Emerson College and to the City of Boston,” said Jeffrey Greenhawt, Chair of Emerson’s Board of Trustees. “Lee continued and solidified Emerson’s growing presence and influence in Boston, opened the new Los Angeles campus and global portal campuses on several continents, forged a historic and valuable alliance with Marlboro College, and established Emerson as a hub for arts, communication, and the liberal arts, not just in Boston but on the global stage. We know that Lee will do great things at the Boston Foundation.  We look forward to continuing to work with Lee to make our home in Boston a more just and equitable city.”

In addition to his role at Emerson, Pelton is active in numerous civic, higher education and philanthropic initiatives. In June, he was named by Mayor Martin J. Walsh to lead the Boston Racial Equity Fund. He also serves as Vice Chair of the Board of Directors for the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Chair of the Boston Arts Academy Foundation Board, and on the Boards of Trustees for GBH, Facing History and Ourselves, Black Economic Council of Massachusetts and the Barr Foundation, one of the nation’s leading philanthropic organizations, with $2 billion in assets.

Pelton has been given numerous honors in recognition of his civic leadership. In 2020, he was inducted into the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce’s Academy of Distinguished Bostonians, received the Eos Foundation Racial Justice Award, and was chosen by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker to receive the 2020 Massachusetts Governor’s Award in the Humanities. He is frequently cited on the annual lists of the most powerful and influential people in Boston.