The foundation is a major supporter of the Speed Museum and other cultural institutions, both in Louisville and nationally.
It is named after the late William Lee Lyons Brown, an heir to the Brown-Forman fortune; former CEO of the distiller, and grandson of founder George Garvin Brown. W. L.’s father was CEO from 1917-1945, according to Fortune magazine; he and his brother, George Garvin Brown II, were instrumental in rebuilding the whiskey company after the 1933 repeal of Prohibition.
W. L., known as Lyons, died Jan. 5, 1973, at age 66.
He was an early backer of Muhammad Ali. He joined nine other businessmen who sponsored the young boxer, then named Cassius Clay, after he won a gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics — but before his famous 1964 upset over Sonny Liston, according to Insider Louisville. That Ali commitment continued with the formation of the downtown museum honoring the late humanitarian.
The foundation is now led by his daughter, Ina Brown Bond, a retired Brown-Forman director, and current director of the Glenview Trust Co., a firm serving hundreds of Kentucky’s wealthiest families.
The foundation is private; it doesn’t solicit contributions from the general public, and it doesn’t accept unsolicited grant requests. It doesn’t even have a website. But its annual IRS tax returns, which are open to the public, offer a glimpse at its operations. The most recent return available on GuideStar, for 2015, shows assets of $92 million, virtually all of it Brown-Forman stock. Grants made that year totaled $4.2 million.
The foundation has been especially generous to museums. In 2013-2015 alone, according to the tax returns, the foundation gave:
- $1.5 million to the Speed Art Museum
- $1.3 million to the Muhammad Ali Center; Bond, the foundation’s president, is emeritus chair of the center’s governing board, and was instrumental in its development and 2005 opening
- $1.2 million to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for a special exhibitions endowment; in 2010, W. L.’s son — William Lee Lyons Brown Jr. — was elected an honorary trustee to the museum’s board — a position he still holds.
- $800,000 to Nashville’s Conservancy for the Parthenon and Centennial Park
- $725,000 to the Natural Resources Defense Council
The Brown family’s philanthropic vehicles are widespread, and occasionally overlap. In 2010, for example, the W. L. foundation provided more than $10 million in seed capital to launch the Owsley Brown II Family Philanthropic Foundation. (Former Brown-Forman CEO Owsley Brown II died unexpectedly of pneumonia in 2011; he was Bond’s brother.)
The W. L. foundation office is at 325 W. Main St., suite 1110. Its phone number is 502-585-4649.
Here’s its GuideStar profile, where you can find current IRS tax returns with annual revenues, expenses, compensation to top officers and other financial information.
Read more about the foundation on Boulevard.