It was difficult for Jim Enote to get out of his chair upon hearing the news.
It was the kind of moment, the chief executive officer of the Colorado Plateau Foundation said, where you grip the arm of the chair and think about the profound nature of the person who had just died.
“Patrick was a sublime spirit who brought an earthly and sophisticated touch to his philanthropy and art appreciation,” Enote said of J. Patrick Lannan Jr., who may remain best known as a man who worked behind the scenes to give others a voice to change the world.
Lannan, who was born in Chicago on Sept. 21, 1938, died Wednesday in Santa Fe of natural causes, the foundation announced Thursday. He was 83 years old.
In Santa Fe, his name is tied to a long-running series of readings and events that gave a wide range of authors, poets, scholars, cultural activists and thinkers a chance to connect with people who they might otherwise not reach.
That “Reading and Conversations” series, still active at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, drew tens of thousands of people over the past few decades.
Those who knew Lannan and were touched by his work say he was someone who, as one writer put it, watched “out for the writers and artists and activists who lived on the edges. Patrick Lannan was a pragmatic visionary, quiet, understated and matter of fact,” author and activist Terry Tempest Williams, who took part in the Santa Fe reading series at the Lensic, wrote in an email.
“He had an elegance of mind and a fierce and tender understanding of what supporting artists and activists and Native communities meant to the soul of America.”
Bob Martin, who ran the Lensic for years, called Lannan an “extraordinary man” whose work with the Santa Fe series was “transformational.”
Martin said the inexpensive ticket prices — $6 for years, now $8 — opened the doors to those events for people, including teens and students, who might otherwise not be able to attend.
“So many thousands and thousands of people experienced some of the greatest poets and writers and thinkers of our time,” Martin said. “I don’t think many communities in the country get to experience that.”
News of Lannan’s death came not long after the city of Santa Fe announced it plans to give him a Mayor’s Arts Award for lifetime achievement during an October ceremony.
Pauline K. Kamiyama, director of the city Arts and Culture Department, wrote in an email Friday, “Mr. Lannan’s support of the creative process and expression allowed so many artists and organizations to take risks to address social issues through a cultural lens. His impact will be felt long into the future.”
The news also came just months after the foundation announced plans to phase out operations and close by 2032.
Lannan Jr. graduated from Georgetown University with a history degree in 1960 — the same year his father, investment banker J. Patrick Lannan Sr., started the Lannan Foundation.
The modern era of the foundation started in 1986, three years after the elder Lannan’s death, at which time the estate received an endowment of about $100 million from his estate. The sum had grown to $150 million, Lannan Jr. told The New Mexican.
The younger Lannan served as president of the foundation from 1986 to 2021 before moving into the role of vice president and director of strategic planning. In 1986, the foundation moved from Lake Worth, Fla., to Los Angeles and started its grant-making arts and literary programs.
Over the years the foundation awarded grants and fellowships to support visual and literary artists and helped fund indigenous efforts to reacquire Native lands — including support of Note’s organization.
Establishing the Indigenous Communities Program in 1994 led to the foundation’s move to Santa Fe in 1997, Lannan Jr. told The New Mexican this year. “The Indigenous program was part of that [move],” he said. “We were told that 40 percent of the Native population lived within 400 miles of Santa Fe.”
The “Reading and Conversations” series at the Lensic began in 2001 and, over the ensuing 20-plus years, brought a wide array of guest artists and activists who generally engaged in question-and-answer sessions with equally distinguished hosts.
Among those who took part in the Santa Fe-based series were Carlos Fuentes, Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Amy Goodman, Arthur Sze and Jimmy Santiago Baca.
In 2015, Lannan Jr. told Pasatiempo magazine, “We bring speakers who are critical of the U.S. justice system, the prison system, the war on drugs. People are happy with our series and the talks are very well-attended.”
But for the most part, he eschewed media interviews and preferred playing a role behind the curtain, allowing others to take the spotlight.
He also had a penchant for jump-starting some artists and activists who were thinking of giving up.
Williams recalled wondering if she could continue working as a writer after her first book, Refuge — An Unnatural History of Family and Place was published in the early 1990s and she seemed to be going nowhere with her career. She and her husband found themselves with just $2,000 in their bank account.
She said she came home from a road trip to find a voicemail message from someone named Patrick in Santa Fe. She called back and got Lannan, who was in a foundation board meeting. After putting Williams on speaker phone, he said to her, “We believe in you as a writer and we would like to send you a check for $50,000.”
Her life changed that day.
“I didn’t believe I was a writer, Patrick Lannan did,” she wrote. She has since written several books and articles and is renowned as both an author and environmental activist.
Joel Aalberts executive director of the Lensic, said Friday he cannot imagine what a Lensic without Lannan Foundation reading programs would be like. He said Lannan brought “so many significant thinkers from all walks of life to the theater. I think of all the things I’ve been to [with the series] where I walked in knowing nothing and walked away with a greater understanding and picture of the world.”
Aalberts said he had recently received word that the Lannan Foundation was temporarily suspending live readings and conversations at the theater until January. He said he did not know if that is related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Enote and others who knew Lannan said he was a private man who rarely disclosed much about his personal life. Note said Lannan was a man who “wasclearly inspired and motivated by nature and the cosmological process.
“He appreciated the sun coming up every day, he appreciated cold weather and he knew it was just all part of life and living,” Enote said.
Among others, Lannan is survived by his wife, Andrea Lannan Tuch and daughter Sharron Killan Lannan. It is unclear if the family or foundation plan a memorial service.