Daniel Mayers reflects on 50 years of service in Washington, DC as he steps down as the chair of The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region’s board of trustees.
By Jane Hess Collins and Janice Kaplan
When Daniel Mayers arrived in Washington, DC in 1960 to clerk for United States Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, he had no idea that would be the beginning of five decades of service in the nation’s capital. Even while clerking for Justice Frankfurter, and later as a prominent attorney at Wilmer Hale, Mayers chaired and volunteered on the boards of a dozen nonprofit organizations.
“I’ve had the opportunity to chair a number of nonprofit organizations over my lifetime,” Mayers recalled. Since 1960 he’s chaired the National Children’s Research Center, the DC Democratic Campaign for Robert Kennedy, Sidwell Friends School, National Symphony Orchestra, WETA and the Legal Action Center in New York City.
And when he wasn’t chairing boards he participated with them. Mayers also found time to serve on boards for the Children’s National Medical Center, the Visitors’ Committee of Harvard Law School, the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation and the Higher Achievement Program.
Mayers juggled many of these board responsibilities even while working the grinding hours of a senior law partner. How did he stay so involved? “You have to go out and let people know you’re available,” he suggested. His community engagement early on paid off in his later years, he said, “because people don’t just come around and ask you to do things when you’re 65 if you haven’t really gotten into the play before then.”
“I think there’s too many people who wait til they turn 65 and then say ‘Oh gee, I’d like to do something’ and they really have no special expertise at that point in doing anything,” Mayers continued, noting that some of his younger colleagues have followed his example of community involvement in the early and busy stages of their careers.
Mayers is most proud of his work with The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, where he served as a board member and board chair for 12 years, calling it “the convener of choice in the Washington community.” The Foundation, which has grown from $70 million to $400 million under his leadership, taught him “an awful lot about the greater Washington community.”
He personally guided the Foundation’s Neighbors in Need Fund, established 18 months ago, to support organizations that provide food, shelter, clothing and foreclosure prevention to residents who are struggling as a result of the recession. The Neighbors in Need Fund grew to more than $3.2 million in less than a year under Mayers’ leadership.
The Survivors’ Fund, created in the aftermath of the 9-11 attack, is another one of Mayers’ most impressive accomplishments. Created and operating within six weeks of the attack, the Survivors’ Fund partnered with the Northern Virginia Family Services to assisted 1,000 victims with emotional and financial support in its seven years of operation.
Mayers’ lifelong motivation to serve, he says, comes from his father, who he described as a very generous man who taught him the value of community involvement at a young age. He also credited his success as a senior law partner, saying that he had “an obligation to be doing something for other people.”
And what’s next for Mayers and his wife Karen, who has served on boards for IONA Senior Services, Home Care Partners, the Higher Achievement Program and chaired the House of Ruth? They’re not quite sure yet but they’ll be serving somewhere, somehow, helping other Washingtonians.
Is he up for another major leadership role? “If someone asks me,” Mayers said.
Sounds like a hint.