Getting Your Heart Broken

I was thinking this past week about the biggest gift I never got.

He was a very successful investor and an equally successful philanthropist.

What I remember most is that he was a very nice man.

He lived on the priciest block of real estate in Chicago.  Going to lunch with him was an “invigorating experience.”  Believe me when tell you, he was in the big leagues.

One of the smartest people I ever met, he was not particularly intimidating, yet somehow you felt the need to be at your best.  I won’t be so intrusive of his memory to tell you his net worth, but suffice to say he would be in your organization’s Top Ten.

He was also a heartbreaker.

I once brought him chicken soup and sandwiches from Potbelly’s.  He was thrilled.  Seriously.  At the entrance to his building, the gentleman who took my car and ushered me into the elevator gave me a look that said, “We like him very much.  We don’t know you.  Don’t even think of trying something.”

So I didn’t.

We ate in his dining room and just talked.  He found out we both read the New Yorker magazine.  Bemoaning the length of the articles he told me, “You gotta watch out, that thing’ll kill ya.”

I remember most vividly that before I left he insisted we stop in to say hello to his wife, who was very ill.  His tender affection for her was very moving to me.

He sent me this note in September, 2004:

“Thanks, Rob.

“You are one of the two development people I like.  The other one is my cousin.

“Pick me up in October and get me up to date on what’s going on.”

“Well, well!” you say.  “How big was his gift?”  Indeed, I asked him for a major gift.  More than once.  We discussed it over the chicken soup in his apartment that day and he kept the proposal I brought along.

A major gift from this gentleman never came to my organization.  The timing was never right, I guess.

When I congratulated him on a $35 million gift to another organization he told me, “That’s kind of you to say, especially since the institution that suffered most from that gift was yours.”

Do I regret cultivating his friendship, or the effort in trying to bring him closer to our organization?  Not at all, despite the letdown when I realized his gift was never going to come.

Here’s the thing.  We practice our craft as best we can.  We step into the batter’s box every day and we take our cuts.

All you can do is give it your best.

In our business, as in life, we’re going to get our hearts broken every once in a while.

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