Michael Joyce; Leader in Rise of Conservative Movement

Michael S. Joyce, 63, was president of the Bradley Foundation.
Michael S. Joyce, 63, was president of the Bradley Foundation. (Tom Lynn - Photo By Tom Lynn/milwaukee Jour)
By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 3, 2006

Michael S. Joyce, 63, who as president of the Bradley Foundation played a central role in the rise of the conservative political agenda during the 1990s, died of liver disease Feb. 24 at a health care facility in Washington County, Wis.

Called "the godfather of modern philanthropy" by neoconservative thinker Irving Kristol and the "chief operating officer of the conservative movement" by National Review magazine, Mr. Joyce deployed millions of dollars building the modern network of conservative groups that waged what he termed a "war of ideas."

"My style was the style of the toddler and the adolescent: fight, fight, fight, rest, get up, fight, fight, fight," he told the Milwaukee Journal in 2001. "No one ever accused me of being pleasant. I made a difference. It was acknowledged by friend and foe."

During the 15 years that Mr. Joyce was its president, the Milwaukee-based foundation gave away more than $280 million, paying for the legal battle that expanded that city's private school voucher program to religious schools and underwriting hundreds of scholarships while the program was challenged in the courts. He was a central figure in Wisconsin's welfare reform movement in the early 1990s, which forced thousands of residents off welfare rolls. Both programs still serve as national models for conservatives interested in using market forces to alter government policies.

Mr. Joyce was also widely credited with developing the intellectual framework for President Bush's agenda on faith-based initiatives.

At the behest of Bush and senior adviser Karl Rove in 2001, Mr. Joyce created the Americans for Community and Faith-Centered Enterprises. He also set up a similarly named nonprofit educational foundation, based in Phoenix, to advocate for faith-based groups.

"For a lot of people, this conjures images of serpent-handlers and speaking in tongues," Mr. Joyce said at the time. "We're busy convincing centrist Democrats that allowing equal access to public resources is not establishing a religion."

He was on the Reagan transition team in 1980, advised President Bush and his father, and in 1993 helped establish the Project for the Republican Future, which developed strategies to help the GOP recapture the Congress and the presidency.

The Chicago Tribune described him in 1993 as "compact, bespectacled . . . more a mild-mannered professor than a political and intellectual intriguer." He was interested in funding what he called "new citizenship" and the "empowerment" of traditional local institutions such as families, schools, churches and neighborhoods.

"Michael Joyce plays for keeps," Milwaukee's Democratic mayor, John Norquist, said at the time. "He is interested in advancing his agenda. He's very much into the rough and tumble of politics and influencing policy."

He joined the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in 1985, just as it became one of the wealthiest philanthropies in the country. In 2004, it was the 51st-biggest foundation, in terms of its $647 million in assets, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. It made $33 million in grants that year.

Born in Cleveland to a middle-class family active in local politics, Mr. Joyce graduated from Cleveland State University in 1967 and taught school for several years at two Catholic high schools in the area. In 1968, he worked at the Educational Research Council of America, which produced textbooks. He later earned a doctoral degree in education from Walden University, an online school based in Naples, Fla.

In 1975, he was named to run the Goldseker Foundation in Baltimore, and three years later led the New York-based Institute for Educational Affairs. By 1979, Mr. Joyce was appointed executive director of the John M. Olin Foundation, one of the early conservative foundations. He served in that post until moving to the Bradley Foundation. He lived in West Bend, Wis.

His marriage to Maureen Babington ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 17 years, Mary Jo Repinski Joyce of West Bend; two children from his first marriage, Mary Therese Joyce and Martin M. Joyce, both of Milwaukee; a stepdaughter, Angela R. Joyce of Tempe, Ariz.; a sister; and two brothers.

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