The Biggest Philanthropist You’ve Never Heard Of
Adrienne Arsht learned to give while growing up in Wilmington. She may call a triumvirate of large Eastern cities her home now—if the relentless traveler can be said to have a home at all—but she can never leave Delaware behind.
(page 3 of 6)
“I’d say my parents left a standard, and I try to measure my behavior against that standard at all times,” says Arsht. “The two characters my mother most related to were Joan of Arc, who died for a cause, and Don Quixote, who was always tilting at windmills.
“Sometimes you just take on something because it’s something you believe in, and you think it’s real. Maybe it’s not, but you did it because you believed in it.”
Arsht is funny and sharp and self-deprecating.
“She’s so unassuming and unpretentious. For someone who has that kind of wealth, she’s one of the least pretentious people I’ve met,” says U.S. Senator Tom Carper, for whom she held several fundraising dinners in her Florida home. “She’s a great person, a lot of fun to be with.”
But her special skill, mentioned repeatedly by everyone from Justice O’Connor to Carper to Christine Cannon, who runs the Arsht-Cannon Fund, is Arsht’s willingness to connect her connections.
When she says she’s going to do something, she does it. Immediately. It could be something small, like putting one of her favorite jewelry designers in touch with a Washington Post editor she met at a recent lunch for the new White House social secretary. Or it could be the kind of gesture that changes someone’s life.
Arsht met Grace Gary randomly. Gary gave a talk in Miami about the Nemours Mansion and Gardens, where she is executive director. Arsht happened to go. The two started talking, Arsht invited Gary to see the William Jennings Bryan house, which Arsht had just finished renovating.
Gary started talking about her brother, who is mentally challenged, and some of the obstacles she faced finding programs for him. Arsht put Gary in touch with Cannon, the Delaware fund director, to talk about the issue. Three hundred thousand dollars later, the BrightStart! program was developed to help children with reading disabilities.
“I carefully avoid calling it networking, because that’s such a self-serving term,” says Gary. “She had nothing to gain by helping me. I think Adrienne thinks in terms of connections and in terms of service, and she’s an extremely energetic person who makes the time to do the things that she wants—and that seems to involve helping people a great deal.”
Arsht is very aware that she has an ability to help people in a way that most cannot. She started working at her father’s company in 1966, where she was the only woman in the law firm.
Page 4: The Biggest Philanthropist You’ve Never Heard Of, continues...