Monday, August 13, 2007

Brooke Astor

There's news of another departure, more final and certainly more consequential than Karl Rove's: Brooke Astor has died in New York at the age of 105. Few people ever had a greater impact on American culture than Mrs. Astor. The AP provides this summary of her deeds and unusual approach to philanthropy:

"Money is like manure, it should be spread around," was her oft-quoted motto. There was a lot to spread: Vincent Astor's great-great-grandfather John Jacob Astor made a fortune in fur trading and New York real estate.
Brooke Astor gave millions of dollars to what she called the city's "crown jewels" _ among them the New York Public Library, Carnegie Hall, the Museum of Natural History, Central Park, the Bronx Zoo and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the flags were lowered to half-staff after her death.
But she also funded scores of smaller projects: Harlem's Apollo Theater; a new boiler for a youth center; beachside bungalow preservation; a church pipe organ; furniture for homeless families moving in to apartments.
It was a very personal sort of philanthropy.
"People just can't come up here and say, `We're doing something marvelous, send a check,'" she said. "We say, 'Oh, yes, we'll come and see it.'"

As students of history and culture, we should all say a prayer of thanks for the life of Brooke Astor. I only hope there are some nascent Brooke Astors amongst the hedge-fund gazillionaires...

5 Comments:

Blogger LaPopessa said...

A truly great philanthropist! And someone who understood that the gift was its own reward. Unlike so many of today's "philanthropists" who only give money if they get their name on the wall or entrance. People for whom the gift is useful only as a way to give them a boost up in society.

7:52 PM  
Blogger buckarooskidoo said...

Methinks I hear the voice of experience in those words...very well said.

10:30 PM  
Blogger TomCat said...

There is an old school belief that the super rich owe a debt to society for their extreme well being and have an ethical obligation to give back. Brooke Astor was one of those.

Unfortunately most of the super rich now subscribe to the Bush school belief that they have a moral obligation to accumulate more wealth, no matter how many people they must impoverish to do so.

2:29 PM  
Blogger buckarooskidoo said...

That's right, and the same thing was and is true of Russia. The top industrialists/first millionaires there, like Pavel Tretiakov, gave the country such treasures as the Tretiakov gallery, one of the most storied museums in the world. But the Putin millionaires, alas, like to spend on...themselves. By and large, they HAVE no culture.

11:26 PM  
Blogger TomCat said...

They are definately nilculturny.

4:00 PM  

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