Lester Salamon, Johns Hopkins University director, nonprofit researcher, dies

Lester Salamon wrote books and academic articles on the nonprofit sector.

Lester Milton Salamon, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies and a renowned researcher on nonprofits, died of pancreatic cancer Aug. 20. The Arnold resident was 78.

“Lester was a rock star in the global civil society research field. We used to joke that, when he walked into a conference, it was like the Beatles just arrived,” said Chelsea Newhouse, who worked with Mr. Salamon. “Everyone — from undergraduate students to foundation presidents to renowned researchers in their own right — would wait their turn to talk to him. And he would talk to them all, listening intently to each one, sometimes for so long that he had to be dragged from the floor to go up to present his keynote.”


“He was no ordinary man,” said his wife, Lynda Salamon.

Born in 1943 in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, to Victor William Salamon, a grocer, and Helen Sanders Salamon, a homemaker, Mr. Salamon grew up in Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania.


He attended Taylor Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh, where he met Lynda Brown, his future wife, although the two did not start dating until he went to college. They got married in 1965 and had two children, Noah and Matt Salamon.

Mr. Salamon studied economics and policy studies at Princeton University, later receiving a doctorate in government from Harvard University.

In the late 1970s, he was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to serve as deputy associate director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, where he became interested in government funding to nonprofit organizations, a passion that defined his work for the rest of his life.

He worked as a researcher and managed the Urban Institute’s Nonprofit Sector before leaving for the Johns Hopkins University, where he worked for 40 years and founded the Institute for Policy Studies and the Center for Civil Society Studies.

At the time of his death, Mr. Salamon was a political science professor, the director of the Center for Civil Society Studies at Johns Hopkins, and was the founding scientific director of the International Laboratory for Nonprofit Sector Studies at National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow.

“Working for him was a little like a Category 5 hurricane. It was intense and he was a challenging boss,” said Megan Haddock, a former mentee and coworker of Mr. Salamon. “But the reason that people stayed was because the work was so good. Once you were in his orbit it was hard to get out of it.”

“He was stubborn. If he wanted something done, he did it and nothing would stop him,” Mrs. Salamon said.

His family described a man who was constantly writing and researching, authoring more than 20 books and hundreds of academic articles on the nonprofit sector.


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“He was working right up until the day before he went into the hospital. He always had four or five or six different projects going. I mean sorting through the stuff that he left here on his desk is crazy,” Mrs. Salamon laughed. “That’s what he loved. He was driven to keep working.”

While he had an overwhelming passion for his work, his family also recalled a devoted father, husband and grandfather who coached soccer while his sons were growing up, grew tomatoes in the backyard of every house he lived in and took his family on a trip to Israel to honor their Jewish faith.

“The kind of things that make societies work also makes people good people, and he was pretty good about instilling that in us,” his son Matt Salamon said.

“It’s amazing, when you look at the accomplishments and the work he did, the time he made for us and for the grandchildren,” his other son, Noah Salamon, said. “I don’t know when he went to sleep.”

“He always said, ‘My boys are my joys,’ ” Mrs. Salamon said.

Mr. Salamon also found joy on the water, sailing the Chesapeake Bay on his 33-foot sailboat aptly named “The Not For Profit.”


A private service was held last week. In addition to his sons and wife, he is survived by two siblings, Myron Salamon of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Renee Green of Florida; two daughters-in-law, Eugenia and Nicole; and six grandchildren, Vanessa, Zoe, Zev, Cas, Benjamin and Dominick Salamon.

For the record

This story has been updated to correct three incorrect names.