Mourning the loss of Mrs. Lily Safra

Smiling woman with short blonde hair and green eyes

Mrs. Lily Safra
1934 – 2022

With deep sadness, we share the news of the passing of our longtime friend and benefactor, Mrs. Lily Safra. Mrs. Safra died on July 9, 2022 at her home in Geneva, surrounded by her family and loved ones.  

Mrs. Lily Safra was a constant friend of Harvard’s Center for Ethics, embracing the role of principal benefactor and endowing the Center in her husband’s name in 2004. In 2015, Mrs. Safra became our Center’s only Edmond J. Safra Honorary Fellow in Ethics. From the beginning, she recognized the importance of the Center’s mission, both at Harvard and beyond, and encouraged our activities and growth. She has been a presiding spirit for all that we do. This past year, we were proud to rename the Center in her honor, too. We are now the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Ethics. 

“Mrs. Safra visited us annually until the pandemic brought an end to travel,” said Center Director, Danielle Allen. “She always carried the same message: ‘Edmond and I shared the belief that in the eyes of God we are all entitled equally to dignity, and that everyone has a right to a dignified life.’ She shared this theme in her spoken remarks, in the annual report of her philanthropic foundation’s extraordinary global work, and above all in her treatment of others. She attended seminars with our fellows and engaged with each scholar with deep attentiveness and personal responsiveness. Her own bearing was always both dignified and kind. She was an inspiration.”  

As one of the world’s leading philanthropists, Mrs. Safra supported organizations dedicated to ethics, education, medicine and medical research, arts and culture, humanitarian relief, and religion for over twenty years through the philanthropic foundation founded by and named for her late husband, Edmond. She was unfailing in her generosity toward the causes that she held most dear, and her philanthropy was life-changing.  

“Mrs. Lily Safra graced Harvard with dedicated support for extending teaching, research, and practice in ethics and public affairs across the whole University,” said Harvard President Lawrence Bacow. “Her exemplary philanthropy has helped us set a leadership standard in higher education for a commitment to the study of ethics on university campuses.” 

Mrs. Safra was careful in her philanthropy, always targeting transformational opportunities. “Lily Safra’s philanthropy was visionary for us,” said founding Director of the Center for Ethics, Dennis F. Thompson. “Her initial support for the Center came at a critical point and helped us become an enduring part of Harvard’s intellectual life.”  

Arthur Applbaum, Director of the Center’s Undergraduate Fellows program, shared that “Lily always gilded her generosity with the Talmudic idea of hidur mitzvah, the beautification of a good deed. Her deeds were not only good: they were wrapped in elegance and filled with grace. We have been graced with Lily’s elegant goodness for many years.” 

We extend our sincerest condolences to her family, friends, and loved ones. We will always carry in our hearts gratitude for her generosity and love of humankind. May her memory be a blessing to all those her extraordinary life touched.  

You can find the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation’s official statement and Mrs. Safra’s full biography here