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YBCA board chair Paul Connolly dies

by Michael Nugent

Paul Connolly. Photo: Stuart Gaffney
Paul Connolly. Photo: Stuart Gaffney  

Paul Matthew Connolly, a gay San Franciscan who was board chair for Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, died March 29. He was 54.

According to family members, Mr. Connolly passed away after a brief illness.

"Sharing a life with Paul is a bit like landing in Oz, where suddenly everything is in color," said his partner, Chas Nol. "His incessant desire to explore boundaries broadened my horizons beyond my dreams."

Mr. Connolly was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on May 1, 1962. A Harvard University graduate, he also received a master's degree from the Yale School of Management. As the director of philanthropic advisory services at Bessemer Trust, he was a national leader in nonprofit management and philanthropy.

He authored two books on nonprofit organizational development: "Navigating the Organizational Lifecycle: A Capacity-Building Guide for Nonprofit Leaders" and "Strengthening Nonprofit Performance: A Funder's Guide to Capacity Building." A frequent speaker and author on effective philanthropy, he published articles in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, the Chronicle of Philanthropy, and Foundation Review and was quoted in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, according to Northern California Grantmakers.

Mr. Connolly also served as board chair for YBCA. His boundless energy, deep commitment, and extensive knowledge propelled YBCA's pursuit of new models for contemporary art centers in the context of their communities, according to a news release. Mr. Connolly was also a director of the Nathaniel Wharton Foundation; a member of the San Francisco Advisory Committee of the Foundation Center; an advisory committee member for the Headlands Center for the Arts; and a member of the program committee for Horizons Foundation.

"As our board chair, Paul worked tirelessly to build a culture of engagement and to help evolve the organization to new levels," said Deborah Cullinan, YBCA chief executive officer, according to a release. "He was a hands-on, extremely dedicated, and thoughtful partner. He showed up to every project, every meeting, and every event with joy and passion.

"Paul brought a remarkable depth of understanding of philanthropy and organizational development, and he shared his time, his expertise, and his resources with extraordinary generosity," added Cullinan.

Mr. Connolly was a prolific artist with a large body of work in ceramics. His creations incorporated seashells, ancient Indonesian beads, and abstract porcelain forms. He was also active in gay men's spiritual communities, including Gay Buddhist Fellowship, particularly the annual retreat; the Billys; and Radical Faeries. Mr. Connolly also explored his expanding spirituality through guided shamanic ceremonies and Reiki. An adventurer at heart, he loved nothing more than a two-hour hike in the Marin Headlands, friends said.

In addition to Nol, Mr. Connolly is survived by brothers Jerry, Brian, and Mark Connolly; and seven nieces and nephews.

A public memorial service will be held Sunday, April 23, from 2 to 5 p.m. at the YBCA Forum, 701 Mission Street.

Donations in his memory can be made to Horizons Foundation, YBCA, and Headlands Center for the Arts.

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