March 6, 2012; Source: Baltimore Sun

In my career in the nonprofit sector, two of the people I’ve had the great fortune of working for and learning from were Jim and Patty Rouse. Jim died in 1996, and this week, his loving wife Patty passed away at the age of 85.

I was a national vice president of Enterprise more than two decades ago, and Patty was a significant part of the Foundation’s vision and values. The news coverage of her passing has focused on Patty’s role in the Enterprise Foundation’s commitment to the production of affordable housing for low income families. Enterprise was one of the two big national housing and community development intermediaries (the other being the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, founded and led by another amazing visionary, Mitchell “Mike” Sviridoff). 

Certainly in those days, Enterprise was much more than a “houser.” As the developer behind the new city of Columbia, Md. and the transformation force behind Baltimore’s inner harbor as well as the South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan, Jim Rouse had visions that went far beyond number counts in units. The mission of the Foundation in those days is still a living memory for those of us who worked with Jim and Patty, the notion of giving all low income Americans an opportunity for fit and affordable housing that would be a platform to lift families up and out of poverty.

It was a vision of more than bricks and mortar. It was a vision of community change and social progress that Jim and Patty shared down to their marrow. In her soft-spoken, gentle way, Patty never failed to remind us about who we were serving, why we were at Enterprise, the kind of society we were trying to create. She had an office down the hall from mine at Enterprise’s headquarters in Columbia and she was a wonderful, generous colleague who was as much a part of the Enterprise Foundation as Jim. 

Jim and Patty were a remarkable couple united by a vision. But in light of the news of recent days, a couple of points stand out. As a new staff member of the Foundation, I remember being given tours of Columbia by the Rouses. What they always talked about was not the houses and shopping, but about the people living in Columbia, the diversity they were trying to achieve, the inclusivity they believed in. They were inspired by faith, with a major commitment to Jubilee Housing, a faith-based model started in Washington, D.C. in 1973 which became, in some ways, the avatar for the creation of Enterprise. Unlike the politically masticated versions of faith-based activity that have diminished our nation’s commitment to faith in community, Jim and Patty had strong beliefs, but they were also inclusive, generous, sharing, and honest.

As a kid who grew up in public housing, I have one memory of Patty in particular that emphasizes her sense of philanthropy. Although the Rouses lived comfortably in Columbia, Jim and Patty were hardly ostentatious spendthrifts. At the Foundation, Patty made sure that we devoted as many of our resources as possible to the mission of eradicating poverty, wasting as little as possible, and always remembering that we were talking about the poor, not about glitzy ribbon-cuttings and big money developers. With Patty’s help, we made our dollars count and took nothing about philanthropy for granted. 

Remember Patty Rouse for her commitment to affordable housing and as a philanthropist committed to fighting poverty. –Rick Cohen