The executive director of the San Francisco Film Society and a leading presence in exhibition, education, and filmmaker services as well as presenter of the San Francisco International Film Festival, died at his San Francisco home on Thursday. His death followed an an 18-month battle with cancer. He was 51. “For nearly six exciting and transformative years, Graham Leggat led the San Francisco Film Society with irrepressible determination, dash and design,” said Pat McBaine, president of the Film Society’s board of directors. “His vision, leadership, passion, work ethic, tenacity, imagination and daring along with his colorful language and wicked Scottish sense of humor have indelibly marked our organization with a valuable legacy and left it in the best shape — artistically, organizationally and financially — in its 54-year history. Graham was fiercely proud and appreciative of his years at the Film Society and frequently referred to them as the best years of his life. It’s no accident or coincidence that those years have also been the best years in the life of the Film Society. Our board and staff are deeply saddened by the loss of our leader, colleague and friend but inspired by his example and memory to carry on his work and build on his accomplishments and vision.”

According to the film society’s own account, Leggat was appointed executive director of the Film Society on October 15, 2005. In the five years that he was executive director the staff grew from 11 to 35. The board of directors nearly doubled, from 12 to 22. The operating budget expanded from $2 million to $6 million and was balanced each year. Contributed income increased from $1 million to $3 million. Membership rose 98 percent, ticket sales rose 62% and receipts for Film Society Awards Night, the organization’s largest annual fundraising event, rose 42%. The San Francisco Film Society was transformed from a two-week-a-year film festival producer into a year-round cultural institution with an increasingly national impact, providing programs and services in three areas of activity: exhibition, education and filmmaker services. An article in the San Francisco Examiner in October 2010 noted that the Film Society “has made a transformation worthy of an adventure movie.”Honorees included Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Duvall, Roger Ebert, Ed Harris, Werner Herzog, Spike Lee, Mike Leigh, Peter Morgan, Errol Morris, Walter Murch, Robert Redford, James Schamus, Terence Stamp, Oliver Stone, Tilda Swinton, Elijah Wood, Evan Rachel Wood and Robin Williams.

Under Leggat’s leadership, the Film Society expanded year-round programming and now presents a robust Fall Season of seven focused festivals including Hong Kong Cinema, Taiwan Film Days, the NY/SF International Children’s Film Festival, French Cinema Now, Cinema by the Bay, the San Francisco International Animation Festival and New Italian Cinema. Earlier this year, Leggat finalized a long-sought goal when the Film Society announced a lease-signing that will enable the organization to offer its exhibition, education and filmmaker services programs and events on a daily year-round basis for the first time in the organization’s 54-year history. On September 1, San Francisco Film Society | New People Cinema will open its doors in a state-of-the art 143-seat theater located in the ultra-contemporary New People building.

Leggat also spearheaded the signing of an agreement with Film Arts Foundation in 2008 that led to the creation of the Film Society’s Filmmaker Services, which offers a full suite of programs and activities designed to foster creativity and further the careers of independent filmmakers. Leggat’s vision also encompassed publishing the nation’s only regional online daily film magazine, SF360.org, founded in 2006.