Pat Lile’s mantra challenge to people in our state for decades has been “Who will build Arkansas if her own people do not?” She was powerfully influenced by this question which was the message on a billboard on the north side of the bridge between Little Rock and North Little Rock in 1957. When the National Guard was sent by President Eisenhower to the capital city to protect students integrating Little Rock Central High and to keep the peace in September 1957 during the crisis under Governor Faubus, a photograph of that billboard took on a powerful new meaning. After their years at Hendrix College, she and her husband John moved to Durham, North Carolina, for him to attend Duke University Law School. That question loomed large in their thinking, they realized in retrospect, as they made the decision to Arkansas in June of 1962. They have not regretted that return home.
Since then, Lile has enjoyed two volunteer and professional careers of almost 30 years each, the first 28 years in Pine Bluff and since 1990, in Little Rock. She became known for her community building efforts both locally and statewide, focusing on the importance of leadership development and on philanthropy, the giving of individual and corporate financial resources. Don Munro challenged her by saying that he wanted to see the time come in Arkansas that philanthropy would be as frequent a topic of conversation as Razorback sports! She set out, through the Arkansas Community Foundation to which Munro contributed significantly, to help make that a reality. Dr. Tom Bruce, also a major contributor, was her ally in that effort which continues even today under the able Heather Larkin who succeeded Lile as president and CEO in 2008.
Pat Lile culminated her professional career by serving as President and CEO of the Arkansas Community Foundation, Inc. from mid 1996 through the end of 2007 when she retired. Her previous positions in Little Rock included serving as Executive Director of the Commission for Arkansas’ Future, a state planning effort from 1990-1995, and as Interim Executive Director of the Family Service Agency.
Prior to moving with her family to Little Rock, she and her family lived in Pine Bluff for 28 years, where she was very active in the community as a volunteer. Among her charitable involvements was the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary which she served as president. She also served on the Board of the United Way of Southeast Arkansas for which she was the first woman to serve as drive co-chairman, and the first woman to serve as Chair of the Board of Directors, a position she held for two years. She was an active member of the League of Women Voters in those years. She ran two major tax initiative campaigns for the city, and led two millage campaigns for the public schools, all successful. A Brownie Scout leader, she was also an active volunteer in the public schools from which their 4 children all graduated. She was awarded a lifetime membership in the PTA and was given the Lester Silbernagel Award by the Pine Bluff School District. As a member of the Junior League of Pine Bluff, she chaired several committees and was a delegate to the League’s national child advocacy conference in the mid 1970’s. She also led a community task force which established the first SCAN child abuse chapter outside of Little Rock. A supporter of the Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas, she chaired its first benefit dinner and charitable auction. As an active member of First Presbyterian Church in Pine Bluff, she was the first woman to serve as annual stewardship campaign chair, and was honored to be one of the first women elected as an Elder to serve on the Session.
She and her husband John founded Leadership Pine Bluff in 1981, the first program of its type in the state, and she was its executive director for 9 years. She organized NALO for other leadership programs in the state and led its annual conference for several years. Concurrently, she led the nonprofit community-planning and improvement program entitled Pine Bluff 2000 and was Vice President for Community Development of the Greater Pine Bluff Chamber of Commerce. She completed the Community Development Institute at UCA in the late 80’s. She was a founding board member and officer of the Pine Bluff Affiliate of the Arkansas Community Foundation in 1987, the second local Affiliate formed in the state. In a newspaper poll naming the Top Ten Most Influential Residents of the city, she was the only woman chosen. In 1982 she was honored with the Community Service Award from Channel 4 and the Governor’s Office on Volunteerism for her efforts to build Pine Bluff. She co-founded Synergy Forum, a 50-member women’s philanthropic grantmaking organization in Pine Bluff. In 1977 she was one of the co-founders of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and served on its Board for 10 years, including service as Board Chair.
As a resident of Little Rock since 1990, Lile has served on the Boards of Baptist Health Foundation, the Metropolitan YMCA, JCA (Just Communities of Arkansas, formerly the National Conference of Christians and Jews), City Year Little Rock/North Little Rock, and Lifequest. Lile was the first Arkansas woman to be chosen to participate in Leadership America, and served on the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce steering committee which created Leadership Arkansas. She also has served on the Garvan Woodland Gardens advisory council and is a member of the advisory board of WAND (Women’s Action for New Directions). She was a co-founder of the Arkansas Nonprofit Alliance (formerly named ACE) and served on its board for many years. She is a sustaining member of the Junior League of Little Rock, and formerly a member of the Rotary Club of Little Rock, where she was named a Paul Harris Fellow. After retirement, she served for two years as a consultant on the nonprofit sector for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and is a volunteer speaker on various topics such as leadership, community development, stewardship, volunteerism, board governance and philanthropy.
Currently she is serving her eleventh year and second term as Chair of the Board of Trustees of Philander Smith College. She also serves on the Boards of the U. S. Marshals Museum and the Joseph Pfeifer Kiwanis Camp.
Lile has received a number of other honors including the Arkansas Community Foundation’s Lugean Chilcote award in the late 80’s and its “Roots and Wings” Arkansas Benefactor award on her retirement. She received the Award of Excellence from the Arkansas Community Development program. She was named by the Governor as a member of the Arkansas Sesquicentennial Commission for the 1986 celebration year. In 1989 Lile was named as co-honoree (with Dr. Joycelyn Elders) as "Citizen of the Year" by the Arkansas Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. She is a 1995 graduate of Leadership America, a nationwide leadership program for outstanding women, and was the first Arkansas native chosen to participate. Entergy, Inc. awarded her its “Distinguished Leadership Award” in 1997. Appointed by then President Bill Clinton, she was the only Arkansan to attend the 1999 White House Conference on Philanthropy. Lile was honored four times as one of the "Top 100 Women of Arkansas" by Arkansas Business. In 2004 the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Arkansas Commission named her the recipient of a “Salute to Greatness” Community Service Award.
She is a founding member of AWLF (the Arkansas Women's Leadership Forum) and was a co-founder with Olivia Farrell of the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas, twice honored her, the first time at its “Power of the Purse” luncheon in 2002, and again by naming her “Arkansas Woman of the Year in Philanthropy” in 2007. She was honored in 2008 with the “Lifetime of Service” Award by City Year Little Rock/North Little Rock and with the Billie Ann Myers “Paragon” award by the Division of Volunteerism. In March of 2009 Lile was named by Arkansas Business, the state’s premier weekly business publication, as one of the top 25 Arkansas women leaders over the past 25 years, one of only two from the philanthropic sector. In March of 2010 Lile was presented the Father Joseph Biltz award from Just Communities of Arkansas (JCA), and was named recipient of the James E. Harris Nonprofit Leadership award in 2016 by the Arkansas Nonprofit Alliance.
Under Lile’s leadership for almost 12 years, the Arkansas Community Foundation assets grew from just under $15 million to almost $130 million, and its statewide Affiliate system grew to include 26 local community foundations offices, with a staff of 11 full-time and 26 part-time. ARCF is one of the five largest grantmaking foundations in the state. Lile retired as President and CEO effective 31 December 2007.
Lile is a native of Hope, Arkansas. After attending Hendrix College, in 1959 she married John Gardner Lile III, who is now a retired attorney. They have four grown children, seven grandchildren, and one great grandchild. They are active members of First United Methodist Church where she serves on several boards and committees and is the volunteer Director of Planned Giving.