Beacon Stories

May 27, 2020

Lulie Gund: Beloved Philanthropist, Role Model and Confidant

Llura Gund, often referred to as Lulie, was known for her infectious kind smile and love of life.

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Llura Gund, often referred to as Lulie, was known for her infectious kind smile and love of life.

Photo of Gordon and Lulie Gund

Gordon and Lulie Gund co-founded the Foundation Fighting Blindness to fund research finding treatments and cures for blinding retinal diseases.

Lulie grew up in Thonotosassa, Florida, attending St. Timothy’s and Bartram School. During high school and at the University of South Florida, she pursued her love of acting all the way to New York where she met her future husband, Gordon Gund. In 1966, Gordon and Lulie were married in a nighttime ceremony at her family's house in Florida. Married for over 53 years, Gordon and Lulie were blessed with two children, Grant and Zack, and six grandchildren, all of whom she cherished more than anything.

In 1970, Gordon was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and ultimately lost his vision. Lulie was instrumental as a partner with Gordon, and side by side they flourished in life. Together, they formed a special bond of support and respect that would serve as a catalyst for success in their charitable and business pursuits. Lulie was referred to as “the secret sauce” behind Gordon and they were recognized by others as a perfect team.

In 1971, Lulie and Gordon co-founded the Foundation Fighting Blindness to fund research finding treatments and cures for blinding retinal diseases. In 1972, Lulie created and became president of the Princeton chapter, the first in the nation, running it for 48 years.

As a way for Lulie and Gordon to recognize the most impactful and extraordinary retinal researchers, they created the Foundation’s highest tribute, the Llura Liggett Gund Award, named after Lulie. This award honors individuals who have dedicated their careers to shepherding scientific advancements in retinal degenerative disease research from bench to bedside.

In addition to advocating for research into blinding diseases, Lulie was passionate about land conservation, serving on the Nantucket Conservation Foundation board for many years, and helping to conserve farmland near her home in Princeton. Lulie also spent 21 years as a trustee and vice president of the George Gund Foundation, serving communities in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio.

In 1983, Gordon and Lulie bought the NBA Cleveland Cavaliers. Lulie was heavily involved in the opening of Gund Arena in 1994, one of the cornerstones of downtown Cleveland’s redevelopment. Lulie valued and respected the attendee’s viewpoints and wanted everyone, not just the box suites, to have high-quality experiences. Under their ownership, attendance figures rose greatly, making a significant impact on downtown Cleveland’s redevelopment.

Lulie was a beautiful person who was a positive influence on everyone she met. She was someone who spread joy and could see the best in everybody.

Warren Thaler, Vice Chairman, Board of Directors, Foundation Fighting Blindness

Throughout all of Lulie’s endeavors, she was known for her magnetic personality, smile, and terrific sense of humor that she used to bring people together. “She made caring look like fun, and that to me is grace,” said LuAnn Polk, wife of Bill Polk, former Groton School headmaster, a close friend of Lulie and Gordon. Whether Lulie was planning a small dinner or a large charity benefit, she had a gift for making events exciting and interesting. And after each event, she would always take the time to handwrite personal thank you notes to donors to show her appreciation.

Debbie Shaw, National Trustee for the Foundation Fighting Blindness, had an extraordinary 42-year friendship with Lulie.

“Lulie was such an approachable person with an intuitive sense for people,” says Debbie. “She was determined when working so hard for others, always putting everyone around her at complete ease. Both our son and daughter have RP, and she was such an amazing resource for them and a mentor for their significant others. I’ll miss so much about her, but especially her presence and sense of humor.”

Warren Thaler, Vice Chairman, Board of Directors for the Foundation Fighting Blindness, worked with Gordon since 1990 and was close with Lulie for 40 years.

“I’m going to really miss her warmth and friendship,” says Warren. “Lulie was a beautiful person who was a positive influence on everyone she met. She was someone who spread joy and could see the best in everybody.”

In her spare time, Lulie was a woman of many talents and hobbies. She enjoyed riding horses, fishing, cooking, gardening, watching Broadway shows or funny movies, and most of all, being with her family and friends.

Lulie passed away on Sunday, March 15 at the age of 79, but she lived an extraordinary generous full life worth celebrating and one that has left a legacy for generations to come.