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His third act

After successful careers in politics and business, David Rubenstein's newest venture is charitable giving

June 13, 2010|By Mary Carole McCauley, The Baltimore Sun

"I've talked to Bill Gates about this," Rubenstein says. "I have a lot of eclectic interests. I give a little bit to this cause and a little bit to that cause. But if I want to be truly transformative, it may be that I should focus on one or two areas. The problem is that sometimes small gifts make the biggest impact."

For instance, about five years ago, he was inducted into the Baltimore City College Hall of Fame. Calvin Anderson, the treasurer of the school's alumni association, sat next to Rubenstein on the stage. As he recalls:

"Mr. Rubenstein said, 'You know, this is the same piano that was here when I was going to school. It has all of the same scars.' The gentleman typed something into his BlackBerry and said, 'I'm going to donate $100,000 to buy the band some new equipment.' "

It was them the largest individual donation in City's history. After the offer had sunk in, Anderson asked when he should stop by the Carlyle Group's office to pick up the check.

"Mr. Rubenstein said, 'No, no, I'll make an electronic transfer. You'll have the money within a day.' When I checked our account, there it was," Anderson says. "I've never experienced anything like it in all my life."

City College used the donation to purchase a new baby grand piano, to upgrade computer equipment and to give $1,000 gifts to 10 especially dedicated teachers and 15 high-achieving students.

"It was a tremendous motivation," Anderson says, "not just to the students, but to the teachers who gave up their evenings to help the kids. We were just overjoyed."

Rubenstein doesn't just want to give away his money. He wants to be around to see his dollars work their rejuvenating magic.

"I don't understand people who give away fortunes after their deaths," he says. "I've always thought, 'Why don't they do it while they're still alive?' "

But the kind of social change he has in mind frequently doesn't bear fruit for decades. Meanwhile, he is intensely aware that he has begun his seventh decade and that the clock is ticking away.

"I need to do this sooner rather than later," he says. "When I get to the end of my life, I don't want to have any regrets."


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