In Memoriam: Richard Franke ’53, a champion of libraries and the humanities

  • Smiling man and woman wearing name tags identifying them as Barbara Franke and Richard Franke with flowers and library reading room in the background background
    Richard and Barbara Franke in 2019 at the opening of Franke Family Digital Humanities Laboratory
April 25, 2022

The Yale community mourns the death of Rich Franke ’53, a beloved alumnus and generous supporter of Yale University Library. He leaves an extraordinary legacy of service to the library and to the study of the humanities, at Yale and beyond.

“We are so fortunate to have benefitted from Rich’s life-long love of learning and the remarkable leadership and vision that he and Barbara have shared with us over many years,” says Barbara Rockenbach, the Stephen F. Gates ’68 University Librarian. “Rich will be profoundly missed, but I am deeply grateful that his legacy remains evident in our community, in the facilities he helped to fund, and the programs he championed.” 

Franke came to Yale as a member of the Class of 1953, majoring in history. His time as an undergraduate laid the foundation for a successful career in investment banking, which he balanced with years of thoughtful and wide-reaching philanthropy. Starting as a summer intern with John Nuveen & Company, Franke remained at the company for four decades, half of which he spent as its chief executive. He was also a lifelong supporter of the humanities, founding the Chicago Humanities Festival in 1988. President Bill Clinton awarded him with the National Humanities Medal for “bringing the pleasure of art and ideas to the people of the great city of Chicago.”

Active members of the University Library Council, Franke and his wife, Barbara, have been among the most impactful donors to Yale’s libraries in modern times. He served as a fellow of the Yale Corporation for twelve years, including six as a senior fellow, and he chaired the Yale Investment Committee from 1990 to 1999. During his tenure, he established a $9 million challenge grant that upgraded the vast book stacks of Sterling Memorial Library with modern temperature and humidity control—one of the most important capital projects for the library in generations.

The Frankes’ philanthropy has promoted interdisciplinary scholarship across Yale. Together, they named the Franke Family Reading Room in 1998, and two decades later, they funded its transformation into the Franke Family Digital Humanities Laboratory.

At the University’s Whitney Humanities Center, they endowed the Franke Program in Science and the Humanities, the Franke Lectures in the Humanities, and the Franke Visiting Fellows Program, and supported the Shulman Lecture Series. They also instituted the Franke Graduate Student Fellowships at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and supported the construction of Pauli Murray College. 

Franke received the Yale Club of Chicago’s William McCormick Blair Distinguished Service Award in 1996 and was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters from Yale in 2001. For his outstanding and transformative service to the University, Yale bestowed upon him its highest alumni award, the Yale Medal, in 2012.

We extend our deepest condolences to Barbara Franke, the Franke family, and all those in the Yale community who mourn this loss.