The following remarks were made by Commission member Linda Thorell Hills of Littleton, Colo., during the placement of a memorial wreath on the grave of her great-grandparents, Andrew and Louise Whitfield Carnegie, on October 13, 2015. The Carnegies are buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, near Tarrytown, N.Y. Andrew Carnegie died in 1919.
Thank you for your presence here today. Each of you comes with your own sense of respect and gratitude—and perhaps curiosity and even awe—for a man who in his 84 years on Earth made a difference of extraordinary magnitude and then left a legacy that is a living, relevant, dynamic force almost 100 years later. I don’t think Andrew Carnegie could have imagined this and certainly would not have expected it. By recognizing and honoring the impact of his life, I want to emphasize that this in no way minimizes the unique effect and contributions that each life has, but few individuals who died a century or more ago still exert the same degree of influence on life in the 21st century as does my great-grandfather. He keeps company with a rare circle of individuals whose influence was so far-reaching as to be woven into the very fabric of American life—past, present, and future.
This, I am positive, was never a goal, or even a passing thought for him, during the years he was engaged in building a transformational basic industry, and then at the pinnacle of his career, when, true to his own words and self-promise, he went about disposing of his personal fortune for the good of humankind. He was as passionate and focused in this endeavor as he was on building America’s steel industry. Within the flexible mandates of his philanthropy, he concentrated on what he strove to make happen in his lifetime, the things he felt would carry the most benefit: Education opened to those who sought it, world peace, the pursuit of scientific and technical research, recognition of the sacrifices of civilian heroes, and the study and promotion of ethics to be used in international relations to “help create a more peaceful and just world.” The quote is from the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.
In his lifetime, Andrew Carnegie pursued industry and industrious work with exceptional vision and energy, knowing that this was the path to empowering lives, including his own. In this endeavor he built for America an infrastructure that gave new opportunity to untold numbers of people. America as we know it today would not look the same if Andrew Carnegie had not lived. He held many core values of America close to his heart: Entrepreneurism, hard work with a strong work ethic, respect for one another, the granting of an equal chance for all people, a strong belief in progress and change as the road to better one’s life and the lives of others, and an optimistic approach to the future. He did not pursue wealth as an end in itself; for him it became a by-product of his determination and hard work, albeit a desirable one.
On a more personal level, I think as we stand here at his gravesite, we need to recognize also the immense support given to Andrew Carnegie by his wife, Louise Whitfield Carnegie. She was amazing woman, 21 years his junior, about whom he wrote, “I first discovered she had a mind and heart alone, and beyond those of others her own age, and from that day to this, I have kept on discovering new beauties of mind and character in her, and day by day, I find the list is yet unexhausted. She seems to have been made to turn this Earth into a heaven for me.” The quote is handwritten on the front page of the book, The Light of Asia, by Edwin Arnold, the first gift that my great-grandfather gave to his wife.
Louise played a critical role in supporting her husband’s philanthropy. Anecdotally, despite her love for him and his devotion to her, Louise was not sure she wanted to marry him. She wanted to be a wife who could help her husband, and it seemed there would be few ways she could achieve this for her Andrew. However, it was his promise and his passion to give away his wealth that gave her this purpose and fueled their love for one another. Andrew’s vision was a watershed moment for social responsibility because it has charged those who have created great wealth to recognize the potential of their opportunities and responsibilities. As Andrew and Louise lie here together, with members of their most devoted household staff still with them, we honor their living and dynamic legacy and can each reflect upon our own lives: What are our own talents? What is our own wealth—is it money, time, skills, the willingness to take risk, vision? Do we not all have the responsibility to humanity to give passionately and generously of our own gifts to enrich others with what we have? I think my great-grandfather’s response would be an emphatic yes!
I would like to think that 100 years from now, the legacy of Andrew Carnegie will be as powerful, pertinent, creative, vibrant, and entrepreneurial as it is today. And it is my hope that those charged with, or impassioned by, the responsibilities of the ongoing work of his 22 institutions will still be standing here as they are today, side by side and in the company of those who receive the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy. Their extraordinary generosity is a tremendous honor to the memory of Andrew Carnegie, whose greatest gift was his example.