Appeared in the North Shore News – December 18, 2015
At Christmas, our hearts should go out to those who are all too easily ignored throughout the year.
They are the invisible people of our society. In our busy day-to-day lives we seldom give them a thought. When they come to our attention in the media, we’re briefly aware of them. Then we move on.
But they are fellow human beings. They have needs like all of us. They deserve more than a 15-second clip on the evening TV news, or a few paragraphs deep inside the newspapers.
By now, Constant Reader will have alertly guessed the identity of the sort of people I’m referring to.
They are the rich — the well-heeled who write great big whacking cheques for the less fortunate, the hungry, the sick. They may even take leave from the absorbing (and rarely easy) task of making money and personally get into the trenches of their causes when they can find the time.
Oddly, their closest soulmates are many working poor who are near enough to poverty themselves, yet who, proportionate to their incomes, give more to the needy than a lot of the more affluent do.
It hardly needs saying: An automatic dislike of the rich — partly envy, doubtless — is entrenched in our culture.
Try to remember a favourable depiction of the wealthy in books, plays, film.
Think Scrooge, before redemption. Charlie Chaplin, born in poverty and a bitter anti-capitalist while becoming probably Hollywood’s richest man of his time, enshrined on film the common portrayal of the rich as arrogant stuffed shirts (i.e., perfect targets for rude fun). And Christmas standards like It’s a Wonderful Life never let you forget that maybe the meanest man ever portrayed in movies was Lionel Barrymore.
The individual who gave to the greatest number the greatest gift of all — knowledge — was Andrew Carnegie. He funded more than 2,500 libraries, two of them around 1900 in still-young British Columbia. In our times the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Warren Buffet announced multi-billion-dollar donations, not for self-aggrandizement but to encourage others.
Trying to list local philanthropists is a risky business, rich with perils. Overlooking many is guaranteed. Others shun publicity. Then there’s the arbitrary dividing line between big, bigger and humongously biggest donors.
What follows will mix a few recent West Vancouver philanthropists with others elsewhere. And note well: Rich patrons don’t provide frills. They provide essentials. They make up serious shortfalls in public budgets, for everything from theatre — it’s recently been reported that in 2014 almost a quarter of arts revenue in B.C. was provided by private donors’ money — to advanced hospital technology.
Hospitals, medical research, libraries and food banks are popular recipients. Jimmy Pattison’s benefactions — not to overlook his economic contribution in providing roughly 40,000 jobs — are widely known. Frank Giustra’s Radcliffe Foundation has helped many. The Zajak family’s ranch hosts children with serious illnesses. Robert Ho’s HOpe Centre is a towering contribution to Lions Gate Hospital.
Djavad Mowafaghian is high on any list, supporting the arts and children’s health and education. Realtor Bob Rennie, a serious art collector, is a big contributor to the Vancouver Art Gallery (and strong advocate of keeping it where it so visibly is). Sergio Cocchia and wife Wendy Lisogar-Cocchia continue a family tradition of community generosity. So does Martha Lou Henley, daughter of Jean Southam, of the newspaper family that underwrote many causes.
Robert Welch’s name adorns a meeting room in West Van’s library. Marjorie Anne Sauder and husband William are responsible not only for UBC’s Sauder School of Business but for a host of donations for health causes.
Alison Lawton is a youthful 45 in a philanthropic field dominated, understandably, by older males. The late Yulanda Faris was a mainstay of Vancouver Opera and other good works. Carol Newell’s donations may have done more to save the environment than the late talkfest in Paris. Kay Meek’s name will live forever on her theatre, which, by the way, is thriving these days, sometimes hoisting the sold-out sign.
The latest member of the blessed wealthy is Paul Myers, owner of Keith Plumbing & Heating, its orange and red trucks a familiar sight, whose cheque for the Lions Gate Hospital Foundation reportedly was largest by an individual to any such foundation in B.C.
The list inescapably leaves out more than it includes. Suggest other nominees and they’ll be mentioned here. But you get the idea: We owe a lot to those who not only produce wealth but privately redistribute it, and whose good works can’t compete with the crime, chaos and corruption on the front pages and TV news.
Merry Christmas, rich people! Take that, Lionel Barrymore!
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And a special Merry Christmas to R.P., who drives like at the wheel of a Ferrari and stops like a chauffeur for a Rolls Royce.
© Trevor Lautens, 2015