We mourn the passing of our co-founder and permanent vice chairman, Alma Jane “Leila” Macauley. Mrs. Macauley, 97, died peacefully at her home in North Palm Beach, Fla., on June 10, 2019, surrounded by her loving family and friends.
“Leila was our matriarch and one of the strongest voices in the organization for 40 years,” said former Americares President and CEO Michael J. Nyenhuis. “We are incredibly fortunate to have had her guidance and support all these years. It is an immense loss. Our hearts go out to her children and grandchildren.”
Mrs. Macauley was involved with Americares from the organization’s start. When a U.S. jet evacuating 243 Vietnamese children at the end of the Vietnam War crashed shortly after take-off, her husband, paper company owner Bob Macauley, chartered a jet and brought the survivors to safety. When the check he wrote for the rescue flight bounced, he and Mrs. Macauley mortgaged their Connecticut home to pay for it. Mrs. Macauley said trading the house for the children was “a pretty good deal.”
Many of the children on the flight were headed for adoption in the U.S. and Germany. Volunteers with The Friends of Children, a nonprofit Mrs. Macauley was involved with, cared for 45 of the children until they were placed with families. The rescue was the first of many compassionate acts by the Macauleys, which laid the groundwork for the founding of Americares in 1979.
“Leila made every employee feel valued and appreciated. Leila connected us—she made us feel like family.”
As Americares grew and began leasing office space in New Canaan, Mrs. Macauley made an effort to know every Americares employee. She selected birthday presents for team members and personally delivered the gifts, along with flowers.
“Leila made every employee feel valued and appreciated,” said Americares Free Clinics Executive Director Karen Gottlieb, who has worked at Americares headquarters for 25 years. “Leila connected us—she made us feel like family.”
Dennis Brown, who has worked at Americares for over 20 years, also fondly recalled the personal interest Mrs. Macauley took in Americares employees and volunteers.
“Leila would make a point of letting you know that not only did we as an organization care for others who were not as fortunate, but that she, too, personally cared about us as people,” said Brown.
The Macauleys devoted their lives to philanthropy. In addition to Americares, the couple founded three other nonprofit organizations: Camp AmeriKids, which today is part of The Elm Project and offers a summer camp experience to children with HIV/AIDs and sickle cell disease; HomeFront, which provides free home repairs to Connecticut and New York homeowners in need; and Americares Free Clinics, which provides free health care to low-income Fairfield County residents without health insurance. All three organizations continue to this day, serving thousands of children and adults in need.
Mrs. Macauley was especially devoted to The Friends of Children, an organization she has led since the 1970s that supports programs for children in poverty. Over the years, The Friends of Children has funded more than 100 children’s charities in the United States and around the world. Mrs. Macauley was also a founding director of Covenant House in Florida and Good Counsel in New York and New Jersey.
Mr. Macauley, who passed away in 2010, always credited Mrs. Macauley with being the greatest influence on his life.
“She has been my moral compass,” Mr. Macauley was once quoted as saying. “She is the most intelligent person I have ever met. I just adore her, but she’s a stern taskmaster. When she gets her jaw set and gets that look in her eye, you know that whatever she wants to happen is going to happen.”
For those who wish to express their love and appreciation for Mrs. Macauley, contributions may be made to a memorial fund benefitting the Americares Free Clinics.
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