The American Dream will stay alive as long as people are willing to chase it and fight for it, as long as we take pride in America’s contributions to human history and the advancement of democracy and work to preserve that heritage into the future. Just like my parents, working class immigrants who left their native countries of Netherlands and Belgium after World War I, and pursued the opportunities for a better life for their children into an unknown land.
My life has been deeply marked and affected by people who believed in my potential, took interest in me and helped me along the way. I went to public school in Rochester, NY and then was one of 24 students chosen to enroll in Deep Springs College in California built on three principles, commonly called the "three pillars": academics, labor, and self-governance. In addition to studies, I was required to work a minimum of 20 hours per week on the Deep Springs ranch. That unique experience had taught me a lot about self-governance and was a great character building experience. As a son of a poor immigrant family, I always felt a sense of excitement about the law and human rights and after Deep Springs I went to Cornell University on a scholarship and was later editor-in-chief of Cornell Law Review. And then I had some break-through opportunities. After college I worked for William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan and later served as Special Assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy. My titles have included the Deputy U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador to the European Office of the United Nations, and Special Counsel to New York Governor Averell Harriman. In addition, I have been fortunate to serve as president of the International Rescue Committee, board chair of the United Nations Association of the USA, and chair of the New York City Board of Correction, among others.
Philanthropy wasn’t a part of my childhood as we barely had money to meet our food and regular needs, but patriotism and a deep commitment to social justice were. As a young boy I had a great admiration for President and Mrs. Roosevelt. I’ve always felt a deep sense of commitment to what he represented as the personification of the resistance to Nazism and Fascism and credited him for the liberation of my parents’ countries. Washington founded the nation, Lincoln saved the republic, but FDR transformed us into the world leader when it comes to democratic values. He led and persevered through two great crises of 20th century: the Great Depression and World War II. But most importantly, he laid out the blue print of democracy for the world ahead as a formula for peace and social justice through the Four Freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want & freedom from fear.
Inspired by this great president, one of the major things I’ve worked on in my lifetime is making sure that the history of our nation is made relevant to contemporary generations and used as a guide and illuminating light for political, social and economical decision-making. I see great value in preserving presidential libraries and legacies for generations to come. I played a major role in founding the FDR Study Center in the Netherlands and the Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt Institute in New York. I led and fundraised for the renovation of FDR Presidential library in Hyde Park and building of the Four Freedoms Park - acclaimed as the greatest presidential memorial in the country.
I am not a rich man but I’ve been as generous as I could be. I’ve given most of my time and energy to public life and the rest to make a living for my family and myself. Philanthropy, properly organized, is much more to the giver than to the given. In order to be successful you need to be fully motivated to participate, have a clear sense of your own purpose and see beyond the monetary value. Helping others is a major form of fulfilling life’s purposes but it must be done in an intelligent and disciplined way, not just throwing money at a problem. I’ve found that the key is to talk to people who have successfully done it and gain from their experience. People should be careful in giving resources to their children but the family should be the bedrock of our lives and the primary object of our concern.
Our lives are like footsteps in the sand. They disappear quickly. The first legacy one leaves behind has to be your own satisfaction in a life well lived, second is your family’s sense of pride in what you’ve accomplished, and third is your community’s respect for what you’ve done. Forth, and most importantly, that you share your nation’s goals and Fight! Fight! Fight! to make sure that American democracy is worthy of the efforts of those who came before you.