David Rubenstein Inspires Service to Country in 23rd Brendan Gill Lecture

More than 200 people gathered to hear David Rubenstein deliver the 23rd Brendan Gill Lecture on April 29, 2022 in the Barbara Walters Campus Center. President Cristle Collins Judd welcomed the Bronxville Historical Conservancy (BHC) membership and friends to the first greater community gathering at the College since 2019.

BHC Co-Chair William Zambelli, in his welcoming remarks, thanked President Judd, his Co-Chair Erin Saluti as well as members of the Conservancy Board for their efforts in making the event possible before turning the podium overt to Conservancy Co-Founder and Gill Committee Chair Marilynn Hill who introduced Rubenstein.

Hill highlighted Rubenstein’s many accomplishments as an investor, best-selling author, television host, and most important, his commitment to historic preservation through his patriotic philanthropy. Rubenstein is an original signer of The Giving Pledge, promising to dedicate the majority of his wealth to charitable causes, much of which is related to American History. Hill emphasized the impact of Rubenstein’s transformative gifts on historic preservation including the restoration or repair of the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Monticello, Montpelier, Mount Vernon, Arlington House, Iwo Jima Memorial, the Smithsonian, the Kennedy Center and the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Rubenstein has also provided long term loans of his rare copies of the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th Amendment, the first map of the U.S., and the first book printed in the U.S.

Hill praised Rubenstein’s belief in the American Spirit and his service to the country.  She noted Rubenstein’s humble beginnings growing up in Baltimore, the impact of Kennedy’s inaugural speech had on him as a young boy and his going on to earn scholarships at Duke University and The University of Chicago Law School. Hill noted, time and again, throughout his extraordinary career, Rubenstein was also recognized for his self-effacing humor.

Rubenstein’s humor was readily apparent when he took the stage, thanking Hill for her thorough introduction, he said,“ There’s nothing more to say.” He then asked Hill if he might use her remarks for his obituary or eulogy, before stepping in front of the podium to address the audience directly.  He began by acknowledging his admiration for Brendan Gill, a former Bronxville resident, critic and writer for the New Yorker, for whom the lecture series was named. Rubenstein then polled the crowd with question about where they were from and their general thoughts on the current state of the country and its leadership. His queries were peppered with impressive facts and statistics revealing his investor’s acumen and scholar’s grasp of history as well as an easy and clever sense of humor. He invited the audience to ponder why, when the country’s population has grown by millions is there a dearth of leaders like Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson today, and suggested perhaps those great leaders were in private equity rather than politics.

He affirmed his admiration for John Kennedy, and recounted his vivid memory of going over Kennedy’s speech with his 6th grade teacher the day after the inauguration. “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Those words have resonated with him from that day to this. His restoration of so many national monuments, museums, homes and cultural centers and preservation of historic documents is his way of giving back to his country. Philanthropy, Rubenstein, pointed out, does not have to be about money. Volunteering your time and or talents, are also important ways to serve your community.

He shared his admiration for Jackie Kennedy’s efforts not only to restore the White House, but also to make it accessible to all Americans through a walking tour on national television.  Rubenstein insisted that seeing historical places and or documents in person adds to the experience, usually inspiring research before the viewing, and then, additional reading afterward, making the ultimate experience richer with a deeper grasp of the material than any virtual viewing could.

Rubenstein shared his personal path to philanthropy and emphasized the role serendipity plays in everyone’s life was no different for him. He worked at two law firms, summer interning at Cravath Swain and Moore, and then working for his idol Ted Sorenson at Paul Weiss, before eventually deciding law was not for him, which led to his ill-fated support for Birch Bayh, and then, a position in the Carter White House.  When Carter lost to Reagan, Rubenstein spent several months looking for his next job before taking a job at another law firm.  Unfulfilled in that job, he recalled reading about William Simon’s leveraged buyout of Gibson Greeting Cards in 1983, and without knowing what a leveraged buyout was, determined “that’s for me.” and set about starting his own investment firm. In 1987,with 5 million dollars from four investors, Rubenstein co- founded The Carlyle Group, which has grown to be one of the world’s largest and most successful private equity investment firms, managing $365 billion from 26 offices around the world.

His successes lead Rubenstein to look for opportunities to give back to the country “that had been so good to him.” He determined four rules for his philanthropy: 1. To start something that wouldn’t otherwise get started, 2. To finish something that would not otherwise get finished, 3. The project must provide an intellectual interest so that he will stay involved and 4. The project must show progress in his lifetime.  He went on to share a chance invitation from another banker to view the Magna Carta not only lead to his viewing the historic document but also his purchasing it at auction the following day.  He then loaned that document to the National Archives for public viewing. Rubenstein’s philanthropy stems from his deep love for his country. He emphasized the United States is a leader in philanthropic giving as well as volunteering, and he hoped his efforts would serve to inspire others to give back to their communities as well.  Rubenstein concluded his remarks echoing Kennedy’s words: “

“With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

After resounding applause, Rubenstein was joined on stage by Emmy Award winning Television correspondent and author Mo Rocca for a brief follow-up conversation. Rocca has interviewed two previous Gill presenters and is himself a member of the Bronville Historical Conservancy. Rocca asked Rubenstein who he thought was America’s second funniest billionaire?  He inquired about Rubenstein’s support for pandas, and his interactions with Donald Trump. Rubenstein reminded Rocca that he had interviewed him once before for CBS Sunday Morning, but that interview never aired, likely due to an interruption by Donald Trump. Rubenstein then turned the tables on Rocca asking him how he became an interviewer and when his next book was coming out. The two entertained a few questions from the audience before concluding the program and joining the audience for a champagne reception.


About the author

The Bronxville Historical Conservancy was established in 1998 to further the understanding and appreciation of the history and current life of the Village of Bronxville, New York. The Conservancy furthers its mission through the presentation of programs, publications, lectures, and special events that foster an awareness of the Village’s architectural, artistic, and cultural heritage and lends its support for projects designed to strengthen and preserve those legacies.