Thomas J. White

Sometime after the sale of one of my software companies, maybe around 2002, I decided to give away a lot of my money. I know of an elusive builder in Boston named Tom White. Rumor said that he made $100m in his career, but that he gave it all away, and now at age 80, he was broke, and, he was heartbroken because he could now longer support the poor.

I arranged to get a meeting with Tom. He suggested we meet at The Country Club in Brookline. He neglected to tell me there was a dress code - I showed up in my typical jeans, sneakers and polo shirt. Tom got in an argument with the club manager to get them to let me in. (Tom later told me he quit that club, due to how they treated me that day.)

Tom and I then got to talking. We started by talking about each of our families, and we learned that we had much in common. We both came from large families, we were close to our families, but that we each got divorced at age 40. We also learned that our fathers were both drinkers. (Read about my Dad here.)

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I started to ask Tom about his nonprofit Partners In Health. His eyes lit up, as he started to tell me stories about Dr. Paul Farmer and Ophelia Dahl, and about the thousands of families they helped in Haiti. I told Tom that I heard they raised $30m (he looked proud when I saw that), but that I also heard that most of that money came from him -- I said you probably think that makes you a good person, I think it makes you a shitty fundraiser. Tom got a good laugh out of that.

Tom and I became fast friends. He told me to go to Haiti, and to visit a homeless shelter in Boston, and then to go back to see him again and let him know what I learned.

I remember telling Tom that I didn't have $100m yet, but that I would work to make that much money, and I would do good things when I made it.

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I used to visit Tom at his apartment in Cambridge, and he would always make me a gin and tonic. After several years of this, he decided to move to a smaller apartment in Newton, perhaps so he could give more money away. I called Tom and said I still know where you live, and now I will come to Newton for my gin and tonics. Tom laughed at that.

About an hour later, the receptionist at my company came to see me, and she looked nervous. She said there was someone to see me. I went to the front, and in walked a giant of a man, dressed like a construction worker. He had a grocery bag and handed it to me, and said "This is from Tom". The man left. I opened the bag to find it contained about five bottles of Tangeray, one in each size.

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One day, Ophelia Dahl from PIH told me that Tom was not going to go to Florida that year, since airports had become too much of a hassle for him. I said how about I hire him a private jet so he doesn't have to deal with airport security? We kind of laughed about that, finished our conversation, and then hung up. I then called Tom, and told him I won hours on a private jet from a charity auction, and did he know anyone who could use a private jet to Florida, as the miles were about to expire. Tom laughed but he said no, he could not do this. After our call, I decided to see how much it would actually cost to hire a private jet from Boston to Florida. I had no idea, as I've never flown private before. I called someone in the know, and found out that IT COST A LOT. But my mind was made up, I got the jet, and convinced Tom to come. The photo below is from our trip.

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It has now been almost twenty years since I met Tom, and about ten years since he passed away. But I try to honor his requests to me - I spend significant time and resources on Summits in Haiti, and I run an annual event in Boston called the Winter Walk for Homelessness, and I often go out on the night van with Dr. Jim O'Connell.


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