HeroVet: Bob Macauley, AmeriCares

Bob Macauley

One of the last flights out, an aging U.S. Air Force jet, was carrying a precious load: 243 Vietnamese orphans on their way to adoptive homes in America. Minutes after takeoff, the plane crashed outside Tan Son Nhut Airport, a searing tragedy that riveted the attention of the world. A third of the children were burned to death; many of the rest were severely burned and injured. Soon after, the Pentagon announced that it wouldn't have the resources to evacuate the surviving passengers for another 10 days.

Bob Macauley read about this in the morning paper and immediately went into action. He called Pan Am that afternoon and wrote a $251,000 check to charter a Boeing 747 rescue plane. That he didn't have the money was problematic, but he wrote the check anyway. By the time the check bounced, the children were safely in the United States. The baby-lift landed in San Francisco within 48 hours of Bob's first call. He had to re-mortgage his house, but, as he says, it was a fair price to pay.

"The bank got the house, but Bob got the kids," Bob’s wife Leila recalls. From that experience, Bob learned firsthand the importance of quick thinking -- and fast action. He also learned that boldness and philanthropy could be combined to save lives. That insight, and the knowledge he later gained through a bit of divine intervention, became the founding principles of AmeriCares.

AmeriCares is a non-profit disaster relief and humanitarian aid organization based in New Canaan, Connecticut. It provides immediate response to emergency medical needs, and supports long-term healthcare programs, in 137 countries around the world, irrespective of race, creed or political persuasion. Since its inception in 1982, AmeriCares has delivered almost $3 billion worth of life-saving supplies to those in need. It also has provided the assistance of medical personnel, like HeroVet Frank Scarpa.

Special Summons

Having heard of Macauley's efforts in Vietnam, as well as many other philanthropic ventures in which he was involved, Pope John Paul II summoned Bob to Rome. His Holiness asked Bob if he could help the people of Poland. They agreed upon a goal of $50,000 worth of medical supplies for the people of the Pope's native land. That goal was quickly exceeded when AmeriCares airlifted more than $3.2 million worth of aid to that country.

Macauley's sense of solidarity with those less fortunate took root when he was a child. His father, Milton, was a paper broker in Greenwich, Connecticut; his mother, Ella, was a housewife heavily involved in an overseas foster-parents program. Bob and his two sisters were instructed to send their old clothes and part of their allowances to foster children in Poland and Latvia. "My mother was a crusader," Macauley says. "I was always socially conscious."

He did not, however, always act that way. At 17, Macauley dropped out of Andover, joined the Air Force, and entered what Leila refers to as his “self-interest phase.” He moved to Miami after flying cargo planes in World War II, and made a living playing the piano. He finally returned to school, graduating from Yale where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in international relations.

It was after Yale that Bob began his career as a salesman for a New York paper company, starting at $35 a week. Even then he had big visions for the future. In his second year, he asked to forgo his salary and work entirely on commission. He earned $189,000 that year. His boss, whose salary was $50,000, fired him.

In 1973, the veteran entrepreneur decided to build his own paperboard mill in Amherst, Virginia. "Virginia Fibre was my philanthropy," explains Macauley. "I wanted to make an economic and social impact in a depressed area."

The company flourished, and by the time AmeriCares was established, Macauley was in a position to pledge 10 percent of the privately held company's pretax income to charity work.

Since its inception, AmeriCares has not only altered the lives of countless people around the world, but it has helped change the face of corporate philanthropy. This was Bob Macauley's dream, and nearly two decades later, it continues to be realized. Like most people, Bob is distressed by stories of human suffering, but he translates this distress directly into action, driven by his zeal to help those suffering from adversity, both natural and man-made.

Image Credit: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/30/business/30macauley.html

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