Slim and elegant, Paul LeClerc stood just inside the heavy bronze doors of the New York Public Library, beside a giant bouquet of yellow and pink peonies, extending his hands to Annette and Oscar de la Renta, Tom Wolfe, in his white suit, and other guests.
The occasion, marking his retirement, was a celebration of LeClerc’s 17 years as president of the library. During this time, its endowment has risen to $820 million from $260 million; the papers of Jack Kerouac, Maya Angelou and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. have come into its collection; new light-filled branches have opened; and old branches have been restored.
“What are you doing next?” asked Ruth Messinger, former Manhattan borough president.
LeClerc ticked off a few things: a book project, teaching in the library’s adult-literacy program, and, he added, his eyes and voice brightening, family.
Nearby, LeClerc’s wife, Judith Ginsberg, was beaming. So was “the other woman” in his life, Catherine Marron, the chairman of the library.
Marron said she has enjoyed everything about working with LeClerc, from their e-mail exchanges seven days a week, to their big-idea conversations.
“Periodically, we talk about how the library stands for democracy in a way that sets it apart from other places,” Marron said. “Paul cares so much about everyone having access to the library.”
Yet another woman in his life, trustee Abby Milstein, an attorney, recalled a sweet-tooth moment with LeClerc on a lobbying trip to Albany.
“To my surprise, Paul packed fantastic snacks,” Milstein said. “We had dark chocolate all the ride home.”
No Advice for Successor
The new president, Anthony W. Marx, president of Amherst College in Massachusetts, starts July 1. Asked if he had any advice to impart to Marx, LeClerc said, “No, that would be presumptuous of me.”
In formal remarks at a lectern flanked by Astor Hall’s grand candelabras, Joshua Steiner, the vice chairman of the library and a senior adviser at Quandrangle Group LLC, invoked three French words to describe the departing president, a Voltaire scholar: humanite, curiosite and couleur (which he translated as “guts”).
On their way to the Trustees Room for dinner (roasted chicken with morels and blueberry pie), guests stopped to see a new plaque in the North Corridor honoring LeClerc. (The South Corridor has a similar plaque for LeClerc’s predecessor Vartan Gregorian.)
LeClerc’s describes him as “a visionary leader and student of the Enlightenment who guided ‘the best of all possible libraries’ into the digital age.”
(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)