In June of last year, Lynn Friess had lunch with several friends. “They all seemed to be wringing their hands. Things weren’t going well in the country.”
Friess has never been one for handwringing. She and her late husband, the famous financier and philanthropist Foster Friess, were always action-oriented. Lynn called her friends with the news that she planned to start a women’s group. The goal was to help inform women about political happenings and get them involved.
“At the first meeting, we had three, and now I think we’re up to about 40 women members,” says Friess, who lives in Jackson, Wyoming. “The group is called Active Women Engaging—AWE.”
And it sounds awesome. “It’s been a lot of fun. We have all different kinds of speakers. Women are getting informed and involved,” says Friess. “They were tired of sitting silently at dinner parties while vocal progressive women held court. They feared, if they spoke their minds, they’d be the ones spoiling the mood—when the junk they were listening to wasn’t any fun for them. Still, they needed more information and encouragement to speak up and not let progressive hokum go unchallenged.”
What has been the result? “The gals have a bit more chutzpah now. We’ve got letter writers who pick up a pen and write to the newspaper editor and say: I disagree, and here’s why! Thoughtful and energized women seem to be coming out of the woodwork now. And it’s creating a renewed sense of community—and fun.”
“We always had an eye out for passionate young people who had ideas that spoke to us. We’d put some ‘gas in their tank,’ so to speak, and watch what they could accomplish,” Lynn Fries says of Friess family philanthropic activities.
Foster Friess died in May of last year. He was known for supporting many facets of the conservative political movement, but, as the New York Times observed in his obituary, “to many, the most important support that Mr. Friess, an evangelical Christian, and his wife, Lynnette, provided was to charities. Foster’s Outriders and the Lynn and Foster Friess Family Foundation have provided scholarships, financed work for homeless people, supported water projects in Africa, and much more. His organization said Mr. Friess had donated over $500 million in his lifetime. ”
Mrs. Friess’s new organization for women clearly signals that Lynn Estes Friess has no intention of pulling back from the fray. “Foster and I shared a vision, the same sense of priorities for our republic. We were together on all things that we gave to, and I’m marching forward,” Mrs. Friess says. “We were both from small towns, not wealthy families. As we became more successful, our priorities shifted and we paid more attention to the country’s direction. We always had an eye out for passionate young people who had ideas that spoke to us. We’d put some ‘gas in their tank,’ so to speak, and watch what they could accomplish”.
And accomplish they did. In 2009, with Friess’s support, Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel launched the Daily Caller, regularly raking in over 100 million page views per month. In 2011, in a stairwell at the GOP convention in Orlando, Foster and his son Steve met Charlie Kirk—the first donation to Turning Point USA quickly followed. More recently, Veritas, founded by James O’Keefe, has been a key recipient of support.
Mrs. Friess’s new organization for women clearly signals that Lynn Estes Friess has no intention of pulling back from the fray.
Over the years, Lynn and Foster developed a reputation not just for being generous but for practicing what might be called creative generosity. Take their joint 70th birthday in 2010, which is still talked about. “We sent out invitations, and we began to get hysterical things in the mail like canes and foghorns. We were opening another gift when Foster said, ‘this has got to stop.’ I said, ‘What can we do?’ He got a twinkle in his eye and a big smile on his face.”
They sent out a letter that said instead of sending gifts, everyone was asked to write a paragraph to make a case for their favorite charity. And Foster and Lynn would select one charity to receive the award of $70,000.
Over the years, Lynn and Foster developed a reputation not just for being generous but for practicing what might be called creative generosity. Take their joint 70th birthday in 2010.
“A few days before the event,” Lynn recalls, “he came into the room and asked what I thought of just awarding everybody’s charity. ‘I think it’s wonderful,’ I said, and we kept it a secret between just us and our accountant. At the dinner, guests were asked to open their envelopes, and the winner was asked to stand up and yell, ‘I won! I won!’,” Lynn recalls. “The first fellow stood up and yelled, ‘I won! I won!’ Then a gal stood up on the other side of the room and said ‘I won, too!’ The room just erupted! Every charity received the award. There were many tears. Just joy… Absolute joy. And Foster loved it. That’s the kind of guy he was.”
Despite losing her husband and partner of 58 years, Lynn remains a determined “happy warrior.” I asked her: what fuels that inner peace?
“When our seven-month-old Michael was near death from bacterial meningitis, we went through a devastating few days. Foster had left for work and the three older kids for school, I sat at the kitchen table crying. I got up, went to the sink, threw cold water on my face, closed my eyes, and started saying a prayer. And then I realized I was not alone…I felt a presence and was filled with the knowledge that He would carry my worries, sadness, and burdens, which lifted me up. Michael pulled through, suffering only full hearing loss, but I’ve lived my life knowing this peace.”
What’s next for AWE? “The Wyoming primary is coming up—and we’re just getting started,” says Lynn. “Plans are to continue educating ourselves about issues: local, state-wide and national. Education will be front and center because most of us are grandmothers and want the best for our grandchildren. As someone once wrote: “Never underestimate the power of one…one vote, one voice, one person making a difference.”