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Honoring Environmentalist and Philanthropist Richard Goldman

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

By Ken Cook, EWG Founder & President


Richard Goldman, who died in San Francisco Monday (Nov. 29) at the age of 90, was a pioneer environmentalist and philanthropist who believed passionately in the power of the individual.

The Goldman Environmental Prize, which he and his late wife Rhoda Haas Goldman established in 1990, is awarded annually to six people who have taken great personal risks to protect the environment and its inhabitants. The prize, which became known as the Green Nobel, has gone to such selfless activists as family farmer Lynn Henning, who blew the whistle on pollution at livestock factory farms in rural Michigan; Randall Arauz, a Costa Rican who launched an international campaign to stop shark finning; and Tuy Sereivathana, a Cambodian who developed ways to help endangered elephants and people avoid conflict.
"Goldman Prize recipients are proof that ordinary people are capable of doing truly extraordinary things," Goldman wrote in a letter posted on the Goldman Prize website. "Although the Prize winners represent a wide variety of nations and work on very different issues, they have much in common. All have shown conviction, commitment and courage."
Richard Goldman married Rhoda Haas, a childhood friend, in 1946. In 1949, he founded Goldman Insurance Services, a major California insurance brokerage firm. Rhoda Haas Goldman, a descendant of Levi Strauss, the denim magnate, was a leader in San Francisco environmental, philanthropic, and cultural affairs until her death in 1996.
In 1951, the Goldmans created the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, which has given more than $680 million to charitable causes over the years.
Among the foundation's beneficiaries has been the Environmental Working Group, which has used its grants to press reform of outdated national chemicals policy and to examine the quality of bottled water. It was with an initial grant from the Goldman Fund that EWG was able to establish its operation in California in the 1990s. As a result, EWG has become one of the more influential environmental nonprofits in the state.
In 2003, after the economy faltered, many foundations restricted their giving, but Goldman had anticipated the downturn, managed his philanthropy's funds and continued to give away more than 10 percent of the foundation's assets annually -- double the minimum set by federal tax law.
"The demands are much greater," Goldman told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2003. "These are not times to conserve. These are times to stretch."
Richard said the Goldman Prize, which has awarded $13.2 million to 139 people from 79 countries, was the "most meaningful philanthropy" in which he had been engaged. In 1990 he said, "It has a future value, and really, if I died now, I'd die with a smile."
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