A philanthropist of many interests serving on boards across an array of organizations, David Ford is remembered for the 13 years he devoted to the National Audubon Society as board chair from February 2014 to January 2019, and board member from January 2006 to January 2019.
“He was so busy that he was reluctant take the helm of Audubon’s national board in 2014, but David stepped up because he believed in the potential to transform Audubon into an unmatched force in conservation. He helped bring Audubon’s focus back to birds and a science-based approach,” says David Yarnold, president & CEO of the National Audubon Society. “His leadership and support guided Audubon through a re-imagining of strategic, large-scale conservation in protecting birds—and an effort to champion climate change as a key priority.”
With a 33-year tenure at the Goldman Sachs Group as a senior executive during the company’s historic IPO, David was also a world traveler and explorer. He became an avid birder through many days-long excursions in search of birds and other wildlife with former Audubon board chair Holt Thrasher and Dr. Frank Gill, former director of science of Audubon and cofounder of the eBird initiative at Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
“We’d hike through jungles and up mountains to remote and historical spots to appreciate the pristine landscapes around us, where we spent hours discussing the importance of protecting the untouched land and conveying it’s importance to others,” Thrasher says. “David believed birds were the indicator species that was the shortest path to making that connection to large-scale environmental conservation for many people. And he believed in Audubon’s ability to tell that story and to take on the scale of conservation needed.”
During his time as board chair, David was integral in centering Audubon around science-based conservation efforts as well as climate change. This culminated in Audubon’s groundbreaking 2014 Birds and Climate Change Report that provided scientific evidence indicating climate change was the #1 threat to birds, profoundly shaping Audubon’s commitment to protecting birds from the negative effects of climate change. (In 2019, Audubon released a second climate science report, Survival by Degrees.) Today, Audubon is recognized as an influential nonpartisan voice in climate science and in federal and state policymaking, advocating for clean energy and natural climate solutions.
“We will all miss David. He was a kind and generous man and he was an important part of Audubon’s resurgence, a steady hand at a critical time for Audubon,” says Maggie Walker, current board chair for National Audubon Society. “Our thoughts are with his family.”
David’s commitment to Audubon transcends his roles on the national board. While his mother was a member in her local chapter in Florida, he was also an active supporter of Audubon New York and Audubon Connecticut with a particular passion for the Greenwich Audubon Center, which he moved right next to.
He will be remembered as a philanthropist dedicated to a wide range of causes. He was also a member of the board and director/trustee of The World Monuments Fund, The American Agora Foundation, The Animal Medical Center, The International Tennis Hall of Fame, and The Preservation Society of Newport County. He formerly served as a trustee/director of The New School, Florida State University, the Redwood Library and Athenaeum, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and on the Board of Overseers of the Wharton School.
“David loved the world, he adored being in wilderness, and he was a good friend to many. I’m shocked he has left us, as I never imagined him even slowing down,” says Jane Alexander, award-winning actress and National Audubon Society board member. “He had conviction, understated passion and steadfastness no matter what he took on, and he took on a lot—more than anyone I’ve ever known. He was a very fine man to be with us at Audubon those years.”
David was a committed chair to the national board and a supportive ally to the organization’s leadership during transformational years that led to a Harvard Business case study on the turnaround of a century-old environmental nonprofit. We are grateful for the leadership, sophistication, and business acumen he brought to Audubon. His legacy lives on in the Audubon of today.
David is survived by his wife Pamela, his two brothers Dick and Tom, his sister Dale, his two sons David and Jamie, their wives Anne and Lauren, and his grandchildren Render, Jack, Evelyn, Hunter, Wiley, and Lucy Jane.