Happy Craven Fernandez 1938-2013
WNLI would not exist had it not been for Happy Fernandez, who, in 2012, convened a series of meetings of women leaders in the Philadelphia nonprofit sector to discuss how to ensure that women would rise to leadership positions in major nonprofits. She did this when she “retired” from her 13-year presidency of Moore College of Art and Design, “the first and only historically visual arts college for women in the nation.” She refused to say she had retired, preferring the word “rewired.”
She had, in fact, rewired and changed courses throughout her career, moving from the faculty of Temple University, where she received her Doctorate, to two terms as an at-large member of Philadelphia’s City Council, to becoming the first woman to seek a major-party nomination to be mayor of Philadelphia in 1999.
A lifelong advocate for public schools, she also founded and led the Parents Union for Public Schools and the Children’s Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. Her interest in public education led her in 1976 to write a handbook, “Parents Organizing to Improve Schools.” Five years later, she wrote “The Child Advocacy Handbook.”
When she died suddenly in 2013, the women she had convened in 2012 decided to continue the work she had started. Additional women leaders continued to join this informal group that became Women’s Nonprofit Leadership Initiative, (WNLI), a nonprofit association with 501(C)(3) status.
At her memorial service, her three sons and husband captured the personality of a devoted family member who overcame childhood polio to become a determined and focused competitor (especially in tennis). The hundreds attending the service and the prominent leaders who spoke reflected her huge and positive imprint in the Philadelphia area.