Guest Blog by: Rob Coombs
We all know the name John D. Rockefeller and most of us know at least two things about him. One, he was very rich and, two, he established the Rockefeller Foundation. Like most, until recently I had no idea how or why this man became such a prolific giver. His story is certainly worth telling.
Rockefeller entered the business world with such fire and gusto that he relentlessly drove himself to become a success, working long, grueling days in the pursuit of becoming rich. His efforts were well rewarded. By the tender age of 33, he had already earned his first million dollars. Twenty years later, at age 53 he became the world’s first billionaire. So singular was his drive to amass a fortune, he had little regard for people. Understandably, the people he had crushed in the path of his pursuit of wealth hated him. Workers in Pennsylvania oil fields hanged him in effigy. Day and night he was shielded by security guards who had pledged their lives to protect him at any cost. As formidable as the outside threats to his life were, the threat from within himself nearly killed him. In response to tremendous stress, he developed alopecia, a condition in which hair falls out. His digestion had become so poor that all he could eat was crackers and milk. Nightly, he was plagued by insomnia. The team of doctors who struggled to take care of him watched his body continue to deteriorate. Finally, the tragic news could no longer be withheld. Rockefeller had less than one year to live. The reality of his mortality in the near future had an interesting effect on him. Like all of us, crisis becomes a defining moment in life. Either we crumble or we stand. Being the tough individual that he was, not surprisingly Rockefeller chose to stand. Surprisingly, with what little time he had left, he decided to live differently. Since his life was soon to be over, he felt that he must make some decision about what to do with the fortune he had amassed. Spend more money on himself? No, with so little time remaining, that simply didn’t make sense. Rather, he decided it was time to figure out how best to give his money away in a way that would benefit others.
Hospitals, universities, missions, and private citizens became beneficiaries of hundreds of millions of dollars he gave away through the now established Rockefeller Foundation. His generosity aided the discovery of penicillin and enabled researchers to find a cure for tuberculosis, malaria, and several other diseases.
What Rockefeller never guessed was that his new-found desire to help others would actually be the best medicine for helping himself. For the first time in years, he began to eat normally. His strength was renewed. He even began sleeping soundly at night. Against the odds, he did live to see not only his 54th birthday, but many more after that. He kept on giving and caring for others until the ripe old age of 98.
For John D. Rockefeller the benefit of being a giver rather than a taker was not philosophical. His life was ample proof.
Rob Coombs is a professor with a doctor of ministry and a doctor of philosophy degrees with an emphasis in Family Systems.