WASHINGTON (AP) _ World Bank President Lewis T. Preston, who led the world’s largest lender through a critical post-Cold War period, has died following a battle with cancer.
Preston, who died at his home in Washington on Thursday, was 68.
He assumed the presidency of the World Bank in 1991, having served as chairman and chief executive officer of J.P. Morgan and Co.
Preston, who personally guided the bank’s developing relationship with a newly free Russia and other former Soviet states, had stepped aside when his illness was diagnosed and had planned to formally retire from the bank at the end of May.
His successor is to be James D. Wolfensohn, who formerly headed the investment banking department at Salomon Brothers, Inc., and will continue as chairman of the board of trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
The Washington-based World Bank, with about 6,000 employees, provides $20 billion annually in loans to developing countries.
``Lew Preston provided a quiet, firm leadership that has transformed the bank,″ said Richard Frank, acting World Bank president. ``He cared deeply about this institution, and we cared deeply for him.″
Preston led the bank through a series of changes that bank officials say have put it in a better position to face new global challenges.
More than 20 countries joined the bank during his tenure, bringing its membership to 178 nations. It began economic development support for the West Bank and Gaza as part of international financial support for the Mideast peace process, initiated programs in newly democratic South Africa and resumed lending to Vietnam, which had been cut off for 15 years.
The bank’s lending practices changed under Preston’s leadership, with loans for education and health tripling and lending for environmental protection also growing, partly as a response to criticism.
Preston, in interviews during which he spoke softly but pointedly, emphasized his efforts to make the bank more open, more cost-effective and leaner.
He focused on the bank’s central role of fighting world poverty and stressed the impact of bank projects over the volume of its lending. He also moved to increase the bank’s role in promoting privatization of industries and encouraging private lending.
Stanley Fischer, deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, which is affiliated with the bank, said, ``Lew was a man of remarkable ability and quiet determination, who, throughout his career, was always more interested in getting the job done than in making headlines.
``He firmly believed that the World Bank could make a difference, and he was constantly seeking to improve the way the Bank worked to ensure that its programs met the needs of the people of the developing world,″ Fischer said.
Preston, a native of New York City, graduated from Harvard in 1951 and was captain of the U.S. Olympic ice hockey team in 1948.
He is survived by his wife, Gladys Munn Pulitzer, their four daughters and seven grandchildren.