Given the times I’m sure there will be a debate about his legacy, every billionaire is a policy failure or whatever. Worth pausing on how he was an immigrant’s kid who launched two enormous companies and then tried to give his money away – something that is, bizarrely, more difficult than you’d think. He largely supported the arts, medicine, education, and civic projects. He did things his way, not everyone liked that and sometimes it wasn’t a good fit. No one was going to accuse him of being one of those education types who emotes over feelings all the time. Eli was that classic case though, at least in our sector, where many felt entitled to his money in a way that made them forget who it belonged to.
I’ll just make a personal point. I didn’t know him well but over the years he funded my work from time to time, sometimes asked for my advice, I was a Broad Prize reviewer, that kind of thing. Here’s what stays with me (other than how impeccably dressed he always was): He, and his wife, were always gracious. At any sort of event where my wife was with me they made a point of saying hello and being solicitous. How people treat spouses, especially spouses not in a position to do anything for them, is in my experience about more than good manners. It’s a real tell about character.
His foundation and its related ventures also employed a who’s who of education talent over the years. It didn’t always work out well but drawing talent, that’s another tell.
The sector’s better off that he turned his attention to it and a lot of people are.