Communications Specialist Frank Karel Dies at 74

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Frank Karel, 74, a former vice president of communications for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation who was an innovator in devising ways for philanthropic communications to help drive social change, died Sept. 19 at his home in Washington. He had prostate cancer.

Nonprofit organizations often believed charity ought to be practiced quietly and without fanfare, he realized early in his career. Acting on the principles that foundations should be investors in innovation and that they should attack root problems, Mr. Karel sought to revitalize the way charities operated in the modern era.

Mr. Karel developed many of the communications strategies now employed by foundations. He set up a media seminar series sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation and the International Food Policy Research Institute to educate writers about world food issues.

He helped put communications strategists into the early planning stages of campaigns. He started the Johnson Foundation's sponsorship of health reporting on National Public Radio, Public Radio International and public television programs. He also launched a project that lets successful recipients of Johnson Foundation grants share their stories with members of Congress.

"Frank single-handedly invented the entire professional field of health communications," David Morse, his successor at the Princeton, N.J.-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said in a statement. "He pioneered the concept of strategic communications in philanthropy and made it an integral part of what we, and our grantees, do every day."

Mr. Karel, who lived in the Washington area on and off since the 1960s, worked for the Johnson Foundation from 1974 to 1987 and from 1993 until his retirement in 2001. In between, he held the same top communications position at the Rockefeller Foundation, where he helped raise awareness about the critical role agricultural research plays in feeding people in developing countries.

He was born in Orlando and served in the Air Force in the mid-1950s. He graduated from the University of Florida and received a master's degree in public administration from New York University in 1983. He was a reporter for the Miami Herald and other Florida newspapers before working in communications for Johns Hopkins University and the National Cancer Institute.

Mr. Karel, who received many professional honors, had been a senior fellow at the UCLA School of Public Policy and Social Research, director of the National Association of Science Writers and chairman of the Public Relations Society of America's health section.

His wife of 44 years, Graciela Karel, died in 2001.

Survivors include his wife, Betsy Karel of Washington; two daughters from his first marriage, Elizabeth Reynolds of Skillman, N.J., and Barbara Kendrick of Lawrenceville, N.J.; two stepchildren, Adam Frampton of Hong Kong and Thomas Frampton of San Francisco; a sister; and five grandchildren.

-- Patricia Sullivan

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