Don’t Hate Him Because He’s Rich: This Billionaire’s Doing Great Things

We like to think of the mega-wealthy as a bunch of self-serving, egotistical jerks. Some of them are, of course. We’re seeing a lot of that behavior on TV during this wild and woolly election year. We often look askance at the extremely rich, believing their interests and ours diverge so completely that there’s no way we could think well of them.

Get ready to like this billionaire.

David M. Rubenstein is the founder and co-CEO of The Carlyle Group, a well-known private equity firm. He’s a billionaire and could be spending his personal fortune doing any number of things for the benefit of himself and his family. Instead, he’s doing something decidedly different.

Rubenstein is a self-made billionaire. He grew up in a Jewish blue collar neighborhood in Baltimore, the son of a postal worker. Rubenstein has signed the Giving Pledge, committing to give away most of his $3.1 billion dollars before he dies. He’s doing a rather impressive job so far.

The most recent example of Rubenstein’s philanthropy is his $18.5 million donation to help repair and refurbish the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Rubenstein’s gift will enable the National Park Service to conduct the most extensive renovations of the memorial since its opening day in 1922.

The Lincoln Memorial badly needs the facelift. Work will include cleaning of the surfaces, repair of the disintegrating slate roof, restoration of two 60-foot long murals inside the chamber, repair of bricked areas damaged in the 2011 Virginia earthquake, expansion of the small exhibit space from 750 square feet to 15,000 square feet, and more.

The Lincoln Memorial.  Photo credit: Thinkstock

The Lincoln Memorial. Photo credit: Thinkstock

“These improvements will hopefully enable more people to better understand and appreciate Abraham Lincoln’s remarkable leadership during one of the most trying periods in American history,” David Rubenstein said in a press release. “I am humbled to be a part of honoring this great man and preserving this iconic memorial for future generations.”

This isn’t Rubenstein’s first such gift. He sends major dollars out into the world to help in a lot of places. Take a look at where he’s been spending his money over the past few years:

  • 2007: $23 million – Purchased one of 17 original copies of the Magna Carta from Ross Perot and housed it for permanent public display at the National Archives, because he’d heard it would likely leave the U.S. if purchased and he believed “it was important that this document, which had really been influential in the Declaration of Independence and our Bill of Rights, should stay in our country.”
  • 2010: $5 million – To the Library of Congress in support of its National Book Festival.
  • 2011: $4.5 million – To the Smithsonian’s National Zoo for its giant panda program, after learning so few pandas remain in the wild.
  • 2011: $13.5 million – To the National Archives for a new gallery and a visitor center.
  • 2012: $10 million – To the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York to establish a pancreatic cancer research unit.
  • 2012: $7.5 million – To the National Park Service to help restore the earthquake damage suffered by the Washington Monument.
  • 2013: $25 million – Joined Bloomberg LP president and CEO Daniel L. Doctoroff and Bloomberg Philanthropies to fund an initiative at Columbia University Medical Center to streamline the discovery of new ways to treat ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
  • 2013: $10 million – To the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon, for creation of a replica of Washington’s personal library as well as acquisition of rare Washingtonian books and manuscripts.
  • 2013: $50 million – To the Kennedy Centerfor an addition, one of many similar gifts to this institution.
  • 2014: $12.35 million – To refurbish Arlington House on the grounds of the Arlington National Cemetery, which was once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee.
  • 2015: $4.5 million – Another gift to the National Zoo’s giant panda program. He said, “Members of Congress know what they’re supposed to do but they don’t know how to do it. The pandas are the same way.”
  • 2015: $15 million – To the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine to establish a center for restoration of functional hearing for those with congenital or acquired hearing loss.
  • 2015: $5 million – A gift to refurbish the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, better known to most of us as the Iwo Jima sculpture.
  • 2016: $10 million – To the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, opening in September 2016.

The Giving Pledge, established by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, asks the world’s wealthiest families and individuals to promise to give more than half of their wealth to philanthropic or charitable causes. They can do so during their lives or afterward, in their wills. Some of the more well-known pledgers include Facebook’s Mark Zuckerbergand his wife Priscilla Chan; Ariel Investments president Mellody Hobson and her husband, filmmaker George Lucas; CNN founder Ted Turner; and Tesla’s Elon Musk.

David Rubenstein speaking at the Kennedy Center in 2015.  Photo credit: U.S. Department of State

David Rubenstein speaking at the Kennedy Center Honors Dinner in 2015. Photo credit: U.S. Department of State

Rubenstein had already decided to give away most of his money before he signed The Giving Pledge in 2010. He signed on anyway, calling it a “no-brainer” and hoping that the publicity surrounding the effort would encourage more of the world’s monied elite to do likewise.

He calls his efforts “patriotic philanthropy.” The donations he makes are “a downpayment for my obligation to repay the country for everything I’ve had.”

There’s a rich guy with his head screwed on straight. Think of David Rubenstein whenever you’re tempted to snort with disgust at every super-rich powerbroker you see on the news. There are indeed good ones out there too, quietly doing miraculous things for the rest of us. They believe it’s a responsibility of their position and wealth.

Don’t let the nastiness of this election year cause you to lose hope in the innate goodness of the American people. Even among its wealthiest citizens, pride and generosity remain steadfast. Great things still happen. Good people still do wonderful things.

Photo credit: Monica Flueckiger/World Economic Form via Wikimedia Commons


Mark Donner
Mark Donner2 years ago

I don't see him doing enough for the environment. 99% of the billionaires would rather see this planet go up in flames than do anything about it.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Joanna Perry
Joanna P2 years ago

What an extraordinary notion that the rich are "self-serving egotistical jerks". Some people are good at business, some are good at the business of making money, some are in the right place at the right time to make money, some are not. Rich people create jobs, either through their businesses or by spending money on things and services. They tend to lead the way, creating a better world for us all. I wish I was rich. Rich people can, and very often do, do so much good, you must may not know about it.

Dianne D.
Dianne D2 years ago

We shouldn't stereotype, but when you think of the wealthy, the greedy comes to mind.

Kathryn Irby
Past Member 2 years ago

Well, in that case! Thanks!

Palestine Forever
.2 years ago

Well, it's nice that he's giving something back. I'm more concerned about how he managed to get that much money in the first place. Was it through screwing others, or was it also philanthropic? Does anyone know?

Kathryn Irby
Past Member 2 years ago

Noted! Thanks!

Kathryn Irby
Past Member 2 years ago

How nice it would be if more billionaires followed suit! Thanks for posting!

Sherry Kohn
Sherry K2 years ago

Many thanks to you !

Beverly S.
Beverly S2 years ago

” The donations he makes are “a down payment for my obligation to repay the country for everything I’ve had.”
He's grateful. That is the difference between him and the other billionaires who have sold their souls.