(Jan. 6, 1919-Oct. 10, 1999). Former Eli Lilly and Company president, Thomas H. Lake was born in Saltsburg, Pennsylvania. He was the son of a coal miner and earned a scholarship and worked his way through Temple University’s Pharmacy School before enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1941.

Having grown up together attending the same Presbyterian church, Lake married Marjorie Lytle in 1944. They had one daughter, Karen Lake Buttrey. At the end of World War II, they moved to Indianapolis for him to begin work for Eli Lilly and Company in 1946, an association that would become a lifelong commitment.

Beginning his career in sales, Lake gained the trust of Eli Lilly and Josiah K. Lilly Jr. leading to a 30-year career in the pharmaceutical company. Lake would serve as Eli Lilly and Company president from 1973-1976.

Thomas H. Lake (left), presents a donation to Father Boniface Hardin (center). Credit: Indianapolis Recorder Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

With Lake’s retirement from business, Eli Lilly soon tapped him for a second career in philanthropy at Lilly Endowment, Inc., one of the largest private foundations in the country. Lake had served as a board member of the Endowment since 1966, but he would become president and chairman in 1977. He served as president until 1984 and chairman until 1992. He remained chairman emeritus until his death in 1999.

During his tenure, the Endowment continued to pursue grantmaking in community development, religion, and education, in accordance with the wishes of its founders. In community development, it sharpened its focus on grantmaking in Indiana and especially on the redevelopment and revitalization of Indianapolis. It was under his leadership that the Endowment launched the Giving Indiana Funds for Tomorrow (GIFT) initiative for Indiana’s community foundations, which would eventually provide substantial funding to build the endowments and organizational capacity of community foundations in each of Indiana’s 92 counties.

The Endowment’s grantmaking in religion supported research on American religious life and funded several initiatives around the country to strengthen congregations and enhance theological education for the sake of improving the quality of ministry. In education, the Endowment provided significant support to enhance the quality of youth programming in Indiana and around the country and continued to support local private colleges while also expanding its funding for public universities, including a major gift to establish the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy (Lilly Family School Of Philanthropy).

Faith and philanthropy served as core themes of Lake’s life. Tom and Marjorie served as committed members and financial supporters of Second Presbyterian Church, although their giving was often anonymous during their lifetime. At Second Presbyterian, they established the Lake Fellowship Program in Parish Ministry, a two-year residency in which young pastors honed their ministerial skills under established mentors. The program was later replicated around the country, with the support of Lilly Endowment.

At the time of his death and with the passing of Marjorie Lake in 2001, Lake’s daughter Karen Lake Buttrey designated a bequest from her parents’ estate to Indiana University to establish the Lake Institute On Faith & Giving in 2002, which honors the legacy of the Lakes by exploring the dynamic relationship between faith and giving through research, education, and training. In addition, the annual Thomas H. Lake Lecture was established that brings renowned speakers to Indianapolis to promote greater understanding at the intersections of faith and giving.

Revised July 2021

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