NEW YORK — Franklin A. Thomas, president of the Ford Foundation for 17 years, said Friday he is resigning to devote more time to promoting democracy and economic development in South Africa.
Thomas aggressively led the Ford Foundation, the nation's largest private philanthropic organization, into the fight for human rights and into significant new efforts against urban and rural poverty.
Succeeding him as president when he leaves early in 1996 will be Susan V. Berresford, vice president for worldwide programs at the foundation and a Thomas protege.
"I feel very good" about the current shape of the foundation, Thomas said in an interview. " . . . This gives me a chance to focus more concretely and discretely on the problems and opportunities of South Africa."
Thomas, 60, said that he was excited to be undertaking new endeavors. "The sense you have another 15 years of active work is just fabulous," he said.
The Ford Foundation was established in 1936 with gifts and bequests of Ford Motor Co. stock. During Thomas' tenure, the philanthropy's portfolio (which as a matter of policy no longer includes Ford stock) grew to assets of over $6.5 billion.
Major new programs were instituted, including strengthening community development corporations in the United States and abroad. In 1979, the Ford Foundation established the Local Initiatives Support Corp.--the nation's largest community development support organization--with programs in 34 cities.
Since its inception, LISC has raised more than $1.3 billion in donations and investments and with the organization's help, 50,000 affordable houses and apartments have been built or renovated.
Under Thomas' presidency, the Ford Foundation broadened its global reach, opening offices in a number of new nations, including South Africa. Foundation officials now are talking to the Vietnamese government about a presence in Hanoi.
Thomas said that under Berresford, 51, the foundation "will improve," adding that she would bring both "continuity and newness" to the president's office.
Her mind "is as lively and engaged as any in the world," he said. A lawyer and star Ivy League basketball player, Thomas served as a deputy New York City police commissioner and headed the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corp. before joining the Ford Foundation.