Tuesday, August 14, 2007

From Brooke Astor, a Thought for the Day

Born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1902 and remembered over a century later in The New York Times as that city's "Aristocrat of the People," Brooke Astor died yesterday.

Vincent Astor, her third husband, left her $60 million and about an equal amount for a charitable foundation. Mrs. Astor took the job of giving money away seriously. She also found it fun:
With a wink and a sly smile, she liked to quote the leading character in Thornton Wilder’s play “The Matchmaker,” saying, “Money is like manure; it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around.”
The New York Times was clearly determined not to have Brooke Astor remembered primarily as "a victimized dowager at the center of a very public family battle over her care and fortune." Marilyn Berger's excellent obituary features Astor's philanthropy. If Bill and Melinda Gates can dispense their billions (and Warren Buffet's) with half as much care and enthusiasm as she demonstrated, they'll do well.

Brooke Astor was a hands-on philanthropist. (Well, almost. Ladies of her generation never stepped onto a New York City street without putting on gloves.)
She made it her duty to evaluate for herself every organization or group that sought help from the Vincent Astor Foundation. In her chauffeur-driven Mercedes-Benz, she traveled all over New York to visit the tenements and churches and neighborhood programs she was considering for foundation grants. Many times a welcoming lunch awaited her on paper plates and plastic folding tables set up for the occasion. She would exclaim over what she called the “delicious sauces”: deli mustard and pickle relish.
Because of her philanthropic zeal, major cultural institutions have the Astor name chiseled on their walls. Other gifts went unmarked but not unremembered: "new windows for a nursing home on Riverside Drive, fire escapes for a homeless residence in the Bronx, a boiler for a youth center in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn."

The Times has created an extensive online tribute to Brooke Astor. You'll find it here.

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