April 18th, 2013
April 18th, 2013
On my thirtieth birthday, my partner Rand was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He passed away just four months later, on Independence Day of 2008. Nothing in my life had prepared me to deal with such a loss. In the four years since his death, I have worked hard to ensure his legacy and figure out a way to move forward without him. His diagnosis was a shock. After his death, the commitment to his legacy through our foundation helped me start to figure out how to navigate the world without him. Looking back, the choices Rand made in the months leading up to his death have given me the means to heal and move forward after losing him.
After graduating from Princeton, I moved to New York City and met Rand just a few years later on a flight to Miami. Finally, after balancing a long-distance relationship between NYC and Florida, we moved together to New Hope, PA. Together we helped revitalize that amazing community – restoring The Raven Resort and creating new destinations like The Nevermore Hotel.
At the time of his death, Rand had substantial assets from the sale of his family business, Solgar Vitamins and Herb Company. I realized during our final months together that what I wanted most after he died was to lead the foundation that we had set up and dreamed of running together. So rather than inheriting significant funds from Rand, I asked him to put the majority of any assets he was thinking of leaving me into our foundation, The Palette Fund. Rand’s best friend, Peter Benassi, is our Board Chair, and we work together to ensure that how Rand lived his life, his philanthropic interests, and personality and spirit infuse our approach to the Palette Fund’s work.
I knew from the beginning that I wanted the foundation to honor Rand’s legacy and reflect the passions that we shared. First, Palette supports LGBT youth. Rand loved working with kids, and we had supported LGBT causes together. As I learned just how few resources there are for queer youth, I decided to make that a key part of the Palette Fund’s mission. Second, we fund nutrition and wellness programs that help people understand how critical these are to a healthy life. Rand and his family promoted good nutrition through their family business, and it became even more important to him in the last months of his life when eating healthy food made a critical difference in his physical comfort. Finally, the Palette Fund supports emerging work in the field of patient navigation. We learned during Rand’s illness how critical it is to have support navigating the health system because of the difficulty we had and how overwhelming we found it. Everyone should have the support we eventually found, especially the underinsured and uninsured.
Rand was the most generous man I’ve ever met. He used to say that giving away money isn’t easy but I didn’t fully understand what he meant until I began running the Palette Fund. Since then, I have come to realize that giving boldly is not just about writing the check, it’s also about the time you give. So with every check that we write, we get involved. I have a small staff, so I get to work with grantees directly. Once I connect with an organization, I dive in and become their advocate. I pick up the phone and call other funders to see if I can get them interested in also funding the organization. I have a publicist that I have offered to small non-profits who cannot afford one. I’m constantly keeping an eye on what’s happening, thinking about other ways I could promote the organizations we support. You can’t develop that type of relationship with one-time grants, so the Palette Fund is committed to multi-year grants that enable us to build long relationships with our grantees. To me that’s the best part of the work.
Giving boldly is all about passion. I fund non-profits that have employees, founders, and volunteers who exhibit strong passion for their work. Rand is counting on us to use the money in the most effective way possible and passion is a key component of success. I just don’t believe an organization can truly be effective if the people behind it are not truly passionate. Beyond the Palette Fund, I’m also blessed to serve on the boards of an amazing array of groups including the Movement Advancement Project, New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, God’s Love We Deliver, Queer Youth Fund, and the Harold P. Freeman Patient Navigation Institute.
When I lost Rand, I didn’t know how I would open my heart again. It’s hard to be vulnerable after such a big and early loss. Running the Palette Fund has been incredibly healing because I have been able to give and to watch what happens with those gifts. For a lot of the non-profits the Palette Fund works with, their vulnerability is so raw. My involvement with them has opened my eyes, taught me how important it is to be vulnerable, and helped me open up again. I truly hope that the work we fund helps other people heal, as I have healed. Rand’s death has changed the course of my life. I am grateful that this new path has offered me a chance to help change what we saw was wrong with this world and keep me connected to Rand even as I craft a new course for my life moving forward.