Leadership Through Giving

How philanthropy keeps on giving


"When you contribute to or endow a scholarship for a deserving student, you make it possible for that student to become a lawyer – a life-changing event.” – Interim Dean James A. Gardner

Editor’s Note: The story below is an excerpt from our 2015 Philanthropy Magazine.

My family’s story

As my second anniversary as interim dean approaches, I find myself thinking frequently about the word – philanthropy. I think about it as the deadline looms for completing our $30 million capital campaign. I think about it as a dean who occasionally is called upon to ask people to indulge their philanthropic impulses in favor of the Law School. But I also think about philanthropy as one of its beneficiaries, and that is the story I wish to share.

My grandfather, Samuel Gardner, arrived in this country as an infant in 1891. Some alert person soon discovered that this child of a tailor and a housekeeper possessed a prodigious musical talent, and efforts somehow were made to secure its development. By the time he was a young man, Samuel had become a virtuosic violinist, well-known and highly regarded in his time as a soloist and composer.

Then, as now, musical performance was not a lucrative career. Samuel faced constant financial pressures. By a stroke of luck, the struggling Samuel came to the attention of Herbert Straus, son of Isidor Straus, an enterprising immigrant who founded Abraham & Straus Department Stores, from which he earned a substantial fortune. Herbert, an amateur musician and supporter of the arts, took a keen interest in my grandfather’s career, and eventually served as Samuel’s patron, a relationship that continued through the Great Depression until Herbert’s death in 1933. My grateful grandparents the next year named their newborn son – my father – Herbert Straus Gardner, and my father can remember as a child visiting the Straus mansion in Wilton, Conn.

Men of my grandfather’s generation did not discuss money, so we don’t know the details of how this great and generous family supported my grandfather, but this much seems obvious. By supporting Samuel during hard times, the Straus family enabled Samuel to focus entirely on his art; he never had to stop playing or composing to put food on the table. The measure of financial stability my grandparents consequently enjoyed enabled them to raise my father in an environment that allowed him the luxury of focusing on school and cultivating his own musical talents. This put my father in a position to obtain a secure, middle-class job as a music teacher in the New York City public schools. The stability of that career in turn allowed my parents to offer me the benefits of a solid, middleclass upbringing and, ultimately, a terrific education at outstanding schools.

The point is that philanthropy keeps on giving. A comparatively small intervention in one life changed the fortunes of an entire family, for three generations and more. Your philanthropy can do the same. When you contribute to or endow a scholarship for a deserving student, you make it possible for that student to become a lawyer – a life-changing event that gives individuals the kind of agency in shaping their own lives, and the lives of their families and clients, that comparatively few people have the privilege of enjoying. So please give generously. Your gift will have a more powerful, positive impact, for a longer time, than you can possibly imagine.