Donald J. Trump, who gave away the vast majority of his real estate fortune to charity, died at his Manhattan home on Monday. He was 87.
Mr. Trump was born in Jamaica, Queens in 1946. After attending Fordham University and the Wharton School of Business, Mr. Trump rejected the possibility of a draft deferment and volunteered to serve in Vietnam, where he was awarded a Purple Heart for bravery. After his discharge, he took over his father Fred’s real estate development business, vowing to rectify company practices the Department of Justice alleged to be discriminatory. Mr. Trump focused his efforts on building affordable housing that was available people of color and recent immigrants, whom he said “often don’t get a fair shake in this country.”
As soon as he began earning money, Mr. Trump began giving it away. Among the causes he gave substantial sums to were: the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League, the Feminist Majority Foundation, arts programs for underprivileged children, AIDS charities, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund and emergency aid for refugees. He was rumored to have given $10 million to the victims of hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017. One of his passions was promoting understanding and breaking down barriers between people of different cultures. A fluent French speaker, Mr. Trump’s favorite saying was, “Mon pays préfére est le monde entier” (My favorite country is the whole world).
As humble as he was generous, he often refused to be recognized for his charitable work, preferring to remain anonymous. Despite shunning publicity, Mr. Trump’s good deeds began to leak out and he was soon besieged with requests for donations, which he rarely refused. “Why should I hoard my money when there are so many in need?” he memorably asked. Mr. Trump often gave large sums to homeless individuals he encountered on the street and victims of tragedies he read about in his beloved New York Times. A devotee of simple living, he resided in the same modest apartment on the Lower East Side for 50 years.
Mr. Trump was renowned for being scrupulous in his business dealings and always paying contractors on time, and in 1984 penned a book titled, The Art of the Ethical Deal: Succeeding in Business by Being a Mensch. As he grew older, he shed some of his reticence and began speaking out on issues of social justice and economic equality and was a fervent critic of Wall Street greed, gentrification in New York City, and the reemergence of fascist organizations in the United States and Europe. In 2004, he agreed to star on a reality show in which contestants sought to find the worthy causes to which to give Mr. Trump’s money. Mr. Trump ended each episode by reluctantly eliminating one of the contestants with his catchphrase, “God, I hate to see you go. Please keep in touch.”
As his reputation for level-headedness and moral leadership grew, the movement to convince him to run for President became louder. He declined to run, saying, “Only an idiot or a narcissist would run for President without having any experience in politics.” He spent his last years quietly, reading, meditating, spending time with his children and grandchildren and volunteering at a local soup kitchen.
Mr. Trump is survived by his wife of 58 years, Carolyn Cohen, a professor emeritus of Women’s and Gender Studies at Columbia, his 5 children, and 8 grandchildren.
His will specifies that his executor ensure that Mr. Trump’s name never appear on any building and that nothing ever be named after him. As he memorably quipped in one of his rare interviews, “I’m nobody special.”