MacArthur President Robert Gallucci Accepts the American Enterprise Award on Behalf of John D. MacArthur
November 10, 2009 | Speech

Remarks as prepared for delivery.

Good morning. I am Bob Gallucci, President of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. I wish I could be with you in person, but I am traveling in Madagascar, visiting our grantees who help conserve one of the world’s most important and threatened ecosystems.

I greet President Lu Hardin; Palm Beach Atlantic’s Trustees – especially Doctor Donald Warren, the MacArthur’s dear friend and your founding chairman; students, faculty members, and administrative staff; and all those who have gathered from the Palm Beach County community, and beyond, to celebrate this landmark day in your academic year.

Today, Palm Beach Atlantic honors John Donald MacArthur, one of the most successful businessmen of the twentieth century. His story captures the promise America offers to people of vision, energy, and creativity.

The son of a poor preacher with a large family, John MacArthur was born in 1897. In 1916, his fierce ambition took him to Chicago. He became an insurance salesman – soon one of the best in the business. In 1928, he bought Marquette Life just as the Great Depression hit, and kept it afloat only by heroic effort.

In 1935, MacArthur made his breakthrough. With $2,500 – all borrowed – he bought the failing Banker’s Life and Casualty Company. In its records, he found a plan for a dollar-a-month life-insurance policy that paid $1,000, never acted on. He advertised the policy in newspapers. The response was immediate and overwhelming.

Cheap, easily bought insurance struck a chord in middle America; there was huge demand. MacArthur became a direct-marketing pioneer. Catherine, his wife, was at the heart of the firm, adding cautious financial acumen and a sharp eye for the bottom line. The MacArthur’s ferocious work ethic, dedicated and loyal staff, and the powerful radio endorsement of the late Paul Harvey combined in a winning formula. Within a decade, Banker’s Life was worth almost $2.5 million – a 1,000 percent return on investment.

And that was only the beginning. At the end of his life, John MacArthur controlled Banker’s Life and eleven other insurance companies, incorporated in all fifty states. He ran Citizens Bank and Trust Company of Park Ridge, Chicago’s largest suburban bank. He acquired property all over the country – 133,000 acres just in Florida, real estate in New York that included 19 office buildings and 9,000 residential units. He owned radio and television stations, utilities, hotels, and left an estate approaching a billion dollars.

That wealth endowed the MacArthur Foundation, which bears the names of both John and Catherine, a tribute to their sixty years as partners in life and business. From the building that once housed his offices, the Foundation carries on the MacArthur legacy in a new way.

America’s free enterprise system has created great wealth. Our heritage of philanthropy has applied that wealth in a free market of ideas, seeking innovative solutions to persistent problems. Foundations helped save the world’s growing population from hunger, developed life-saving vaccines, transformed medical education, created public television. Today, 70,000 U.S. foundations give $2 billion every year to causes they believe in.

MacArthur is one of the ten largest. We have assets of $5 billion, and will give grants that total $230 million this year. Our Fellows Program – sometimes called the “genius grants” – honors creative high achievers with $500,000 grants, out of the blue, no strings attached. You may have noted our sponsorship of documentaries and news programs on public radio and television. But our deepest interest is in building a more just and peaceful world. How do we do that?

In America, we focus on preserving affordable rental housing; bringing opportunity to Chicago’s low-income neighborhoods; and building a fairer, more accountable, system of juvenile justice.

MacArthur helps investigate how digital media are changing the ways young people learn and supports many research networks: one is studying how advances in neuroscience may affect our legal system.

We have established a committee of experts from the National Academies of Sciences and of Public Administration. It will lay out options for addressing the fiscal crisis America is facing, as entitlement programs and the national debt consume more and more of the federal budget.

We are also a global organization, with grantees in 60 countries and offices in Russia, Nigeria, India, and Mexico. Some highlights of our programs: Peace and Security aims to help reduce the threat from weapons of mass destruction. Population is committed to reducing the number of women who die from hemorrhage in childbirth, especially in Nigeria and India. Conservation and Sustainable Development protects biodiversity in eight regions from the Himalayas to the African Rift Valley and the tropical Andes. Human Rights and International Justice has funded 600 human rights groups in 90 countries that stand up for the rule of law, press freedom, and an end to discrimination – and is also helping to build a system of international justice to deal with crimes against humanity.

The Foundation also funds higher education in Russia and Nigeria, helped develop a new master’s course for development professionals, and works to improve how the migration of people around the world is managed.

All these efforts, led by hundreds of courageous and committed people, were made possible by the legacy of John MacArthur. And it is fitting that you at Palm Beach Atlantic pay tribute to him today. Florida, especially Palm Beach, was close to John’s heart. Acknowledging that bond, the MacArthur Foundation has invested more than $200 million in this state. We donated the land for the John D. MacArthur State Park and Florida Atlantic University’s Abacoa campus. In 2004, we set up the $20 million MacArthur Fund at the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties.

Catherine MacArthur’s $12 million bequest to Palm Beach Atlantic helped set it on a course to distinction. She believed in the vision for this university, shared many of your core values, and had great faith in the dedication and perseverance of Donald Warren. Your success would have given her great satisfaction, and she would have taken particular pride in the Catherine T. MacArthur School of Leadership – and the scholarships in her name for young women of exceptional talent and promise.

Palm Beach Atlantic is an important part of the legacy that the MacArthurs left this nation. They would warmly endorse your dedication to free enterprise, to serving the community, and to the values that inspire young people to serve and strive. Your mission distills the best of what the MacArthurs cared for, and instills it the minds of thousands of gifted young people. Some of them may reach the heights that John MacArthur achieved. All of them will make a contribution to this nation as they uphold the principles that have guided and preserved the great American experiment.

It is a great honor for me, representing the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, to accept the American Enterprise Award on behalf of the late John MacArthur. I thank you for this recognition, and wish Palm Beach Atlantic University every success in the years to come.

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