Washingtonians of the Year 2012: David Rubenstein

Philanthropy that unites Washington.

By: Leslie Milk, Mary Yarrison

When David Rubenstein was a boy, his mother sent him for piano lessons. She was sure the name Rubenstein—because of pianist Arthur Rubinstein—conveyed talent. David’s piano teacher later called and told his mother to save her money.

Rubenstein may never appear on the concert stage, but he’s second to none as a performing-arts supporter. Cofounder of the Carlyle Group private-equity firm and chairman of the Kennedy Center, Rubenstein recently donated $2 million for a new organ in the venue’s Concert Hall. In all, he’s given more than ten times that much since he became chair in 2010. “Happiness is the most elusive thing,” he says. “The performing arts make people happy.”

Rubenstein has donated so many millions to local institutions that it makes you wonder: How does he decide where to put his resources? “I look for things that were helpful to me in my life and things that wouldn’t happen if I didn’t give the money.”

His alma maters, Duke and the University of Chicago, have been beneficiaries. But because he built his company and raised his family here, he dedicates himself to programs in Washington.

When the Smithsonian feared that the National Zoo would lose its pandas, Rubenstein donated $4.5 million to the program. When the US’s only copy of the Magna Carta came up for auction, he bought it for $21.3 million and lent it to the National Archives—permanently. Then he gave another $800,000 for conserving the historic document and $13.5 million for a new exhibit area. Rubenstein also funds scholarships for DC students and awards for principals and teachers.

A billionaire without an entourage, he’s modest about his impact: “The secret is to take advantage of your luck, build something, and then find something great to do with your money.”

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