Elisabeth Kimball, 69

Co-founder and board member of the Plexus Institute, Elisabeth (Lisa) Kimball of Washington, D.C.,died Nov. 3 at home of amyloidosis. Lisa’s beloved husband John Cooney was with her every step of her long journey right to the end.

Please join with Plexus Institute as we grieve the passing of our friend and colleague and celebrate the enormous impact Lisa’s life and work had on so very many lives, organizations and communities.

As word spread of her death, it became clear how large and mighty Lisa’s “net” is — truly, her impact spans the globe. The stories of Lisa’s talents, generosity and big heart will continue to be shared across many networks and between colleagues and friends. Everyone who worked with Lisa experienced her magical qualities – she would gather and connect a diverse group of people, let each person soar above all expectations and gently guide the group as they co-created something remarkable.

We share the following as only a glimpse into Lisa Kimball’s life. What we hope you will remember and carry forward is the enduring energy of Lisa’s voice encouraging us to never stop searching for a good collaboration, to see the world through a new lens, to take risks, to believe in what makes each of us special and of course, to have fun.


The daughter of Penn Townsend Kimball and Janet Fraser Kimball, she grew up in Westport, CT and went on to Sarah Lawrence College, then earned Master’s degrees in education from Wesleyan University and Wheelock College. She obtained a Ph.D. in educational psychology – cognition and learning from Catholic University, where her research focused on systems thinking.

A warm generous person, in her personal life she gathered people together for dinners and parties that gave her the chance to share her love of food and talent in preparing it.

The emotional epicenter of Lisa’s family was a non-winterized cottage on a hilltop in Martha’s Vineyard overlooking a sheep meadow.

Her wit, love of color, and whimsical spirit were manifested by Lisa’s conversion of her and husband John’s home in Washington into what was essentially a private museum for their joyous collection of Mexican folk art.

Lisa radiated intelligence, curiosity, optimism, a powerful scanning radar for innovation, and boundless energy. She was born to bring people together and had a unique ability to connect people with complementary skills to promote advancement of their ideas.

Lisa began her long professional journey at the Office of Personnel Management in the Carter Administration, and helped design the federal government’s Senior Executive Service. She devoted her professional life as a management consultant to building better organizations and a better world through creating high-performing teams that emphasized creative innovation within a loose structure.

As a pioneer in developing the theory and practice of using the internet to develop online teams that could generate and implement new ideas, even though their members were separated by geography and time, Lisa became a leading light in the Organizational Development movement through a global network of professional groups.

Lisa was a founder and board member of the Plexus Institute, a non-profit focused on applying ideas from complexity science to organizational and social problems. Using the management technique known as Adaptive Positive Deviance, Plexus worked with 40 hospitals to eliminate transmission of MRSA infections, by engaging employees at all levels to identify which groups within the facility had already developed better techniques to fight infection, and to scale up those practices for use by lower performing teams. The success of the MRSA program allowed Lisa to return to her roots in education, as Plexus received grants to determine how the Adaptive Positive Deviance approach could be employed to improve results in underperforming inner-city schools.

Starting in 2000, Lisa served as executive producer of Group Jazz, a company she founded to assist organizations and communities to develop the capacity to identify critical problems and develop collaborative initiatives to address issues through inclusive engagement.

Lisa is survived by her husband, John Cooney; her stepmother, Julie Kimball; her sister, Laura Kimball, and her brother, Barry Cerf.

We invite you to share your stories here or via email to admin@plexusinstitute.org.