WASHINGTON - Prominent D.C. philanthropist and leader Peggy Cooper Cafritz has passed away at the age of 70.
The activist and art collector helped start the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in 1974, as well as the Ellington Fund and served as the first publicly elected president of the District of Columbia Board of Education.
In a statement from Mayor Muriel Bowser, she called Cafritz one of DC's "most inspiring and generous visionaries and activists."
She was a notable art collector and had amassed one of the most important collections of work by artists of color in the country. However, in 2009, the more than three hundred works in her collection were destroyed in the largest residential fire in Washington, D.C. history.
She recently published a book on her collection that featured 200 of the lost artworks, as well as new additions to her collection since the fire.
In a statement, Mayor Bowser said: “Her belief in our young people and her dogged determination to break down barriers was matched by the extraordinary persistence and leadership needed to bring her vision to life. Because of Peggy, we have the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. And because of Peggy, thousands of students have had, and will continue to have, the opportunity to grow and develop in an educational environment that supports their unique talents and aspirations. Her legacy will be felt by generations to come. We pray for and send our condolences to Peggy’s family and friends.”
Former National Security Advisor and United Nations Ambassador under President Obama Susan Rice wrote on Twitter: "A great tree has fallen today. Peggy Cooper Cafritz, 70, was my other mother. RIP. I’m heartbroken."