“George was born and raised here and in his heart, he never really left,” John Riley says, describing his brother. After graduating high school in Memphis, George went on to Princeton University and Harvard Law School and became one of the country's top intellectual property litigators. His acumen for the law was matched by his passion for the arts and lifelong commitment to social justice and civil rights. Though he lived in California, for years he envisioned a multi-disciplinary cultural celebration of the arts and his hometown’s unique, rich history.
After George’s death from leukemia in 2016, John Riley and his wife, Maryellen, were determined to bring George’s vision to fruition. They realized that supporting arts and justice-focused programming as part of the MLK50 commemoration was a powerful way to pay tribute to George and to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., whose work was so influential on George’s life.
Establishing the Remembering George Riley at MLK50 Fund at the Community Foundation helped the Illinois-based couple ensure the management of contributions to the fund and grants to local nonprofits. “What better
organization to partner with than one already connected to the community and in the business of lifting up the community?” says Maryellen.
Through the generosity of family, friends, and colleagues who contributed to the fund, the Rileys supported the “Where Do We Go From Here?” symposium presented by the National Civil Rights Museum and the University of Memphis law school. Additionally, they funded artistic and educational programming by the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Indie Memphis, the University of Memphis Department of English, and PRIZM Ensemble.
Underwriting the PRIZM Ensemble’s “Concert for the Next 50 Years” was especially gratifying to the couple. PRIZM includes a racially diverse chamber orchestra and a youth development program. “George’s heart would be bursting with joy to see us supporting these talented kids,” Maryellen Riley says, praising “an organization dedicated to bringing the joy of classical music to underserved students.”
Excerpted from the 2018 Community Foundation Annual Report