I met Paul Farmer in 1983. Project Bread asked if I’d build an oven in Haiti, which saved women from walking 20 miles for bread. When I went to see the oven in Cange I met Paul. He was 23; I was 63. Our meeting was cooked up in heaven.
Paul was still in Harvard Medical School but had already started a one-room clinic in Haiti. It now has grown into a major hospital that saw 1 million patients last year. I have given tens of millions to Partners In Health (PIH), for Haiti, Peru, and other locations.
Paul lives like an ascetic. He loves a good meal, but he has only one suit. When he won the MacArthur Foundation Award, the money went directly to PIH. If it went through Paul, part of it would be taxable. The foundation said nobody had ever done that before.
I joined my father's construction business, J.F. White, when I came home from WWII. It grew from doing $10,000 excavations to $400 million construction jobs. In the last 25 years I've given away all my stock, which today would be worth about $200 million. When people ask me why, I say, “I have two gifts from God: the gift of compassion, and the gift of making money.” I just put them together so they are hand in hand.
My heart has always been with the underdog. Jesus is my role model. His most emphasized teaching was to love and help the poor and underprivileged.
Some people think that God makes people rich because they are nice guys and that poor people must have done something wrong. That’s a bunch of bull.
I believe it is sinful to sit on millions when you know people are starving. When judgment day comes, God won't ask, “How much did you make?” but "How much did you help your neighbor?”
Tom died on January 7th, 2011. You can learn more about his enduring legacy in the Boston Globe
and also read author Tracy Kidder's tribute to him on the Partners in Health blog
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Posted on May 15th by Anne Ellinger
I notice Tom White didn't just write checks from his house -- he WENT to Haiti, where he met Paul Farmer, which then changed his life. He had a REASON to invest his millions.
We all need life-changing experiences to shake us up and give us perspective. One outfit I know (exquisitesafaris.com
) offers "philanthropic adventures" to affluent people. Travelers have first-class accommodations in gorgeous places -- but then are brought into personal connection with the local needs. Like Tom White, their lives are changed, and they open to giving at a new level.