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November 10, 2011 / Christian Clansky

WWII veteran Mr. Richard England talks about “fixing the world”

Mr. England during WWII

We often see Mr. Richard England adjusting the microphones so that he can hear at WRAG events. Few in the philanthropic community may know that Mr. England lost his hearing when he was a sailor landing on Guadalcanal in 1943 during World War II. As we prepare to celebrate Veteran’s Day, we asked Mr. England to reflect on philanthropy – what it means to him, what advice he has for young philanthropists, and how funders can support our nation’s veterans.

Mr. England and his wife, Lois, started their charitable giving in 1948. In 1990, they formally established the Lois and Richard England Family Foundation with their children. Mr. England, who has served on the boards of more than 30 nonprofits, finds philanthropic inspiration in his faith. “I am Jewish,” he says. “The part of the religion which excites me is Tikkun Olam – the Hebrew phrase which means ‘fixing the world.’”

Mr. and Mrs. England

While Tikkun Olam derives specifically from religion, Mr. England believes the universality of the concept can help inspire and frame the work of new philanthropists. For funders just beginning their work in the Greater Washington region, he also has this straightforward advice: know your surroundings. “Read the Washington Post to learn where the problems are,” he implores, “Drive around the city to get acquainted.”

For veterans of the United States military – a population that faces disproportionately high rates of unemployment and homelessness in our region – his hope for philanthropy is equally direct. He says that funders need to look at ways of better supporting veteran education and affordable housing, both of which are essential to tackling the high unemployment rate of our former service members.

With more than six decades of experience in philanthropy, Mr. England says that his approach to giving hasn’t changed over time. Perhaps that is because a continuous focus on the goal of fixing the world – whether in service of his country or by giving back to the community – remains personal.

“I really enjoy helping people who are less fortunate,” he says.

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