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Impact Without Borders

by Adam Shanks

His Holiness the Dalai Lama with Blum. The two first met in 1972 and maintained a close friendship.
Aperson is more than a reflection of the friends he keeps, but Richard Charles Blum’s impact on the world is undoubtedly demonstrated by the people with whom he was close. After all, how many people can count the Dalai Lama and an American president among personal friends? And maintain a decades-long marriage with a U.S. senator and friendship with a governor?

Blum, who died in February of cancer at the age of 86, was remembered fondly at his memorial service as a longtime supporter of California education and social causes abroad, as well as an astute businessman with a penchant for philanthropy. He built a career as a businessman, but his passions and interests were myriad.

Not long into his career in finance, Blum founded Blum Capital Partners in San Francisco in 1975. As its chairman and president, he grew the business into the multibillion-dollar company it is today. He also served on the boards of various companies throughout his life, including Playtex Products and Northwest Airlines Corp.

But Blum never forgot where it started. He was known for an unwavering dedication to his alma mater, UC Berkeley, from which he graduated with two business degrees.

Blum was tapped to serve on the UC Board of Regents in 2002, then appointed to a second 14-year term in 2012. He was not immune from criticism, earning the ire of those who opposed university budget cuts that Blum felt were necessary to maintain fiscal responsibility.

“I had the privilege of knowing and working with Dick throughout my years with the University of California. For nearly two decades, he provided invaluable counsel as a Regent and as a devoted friend of the University,” University of California President Michael V. Drake, MD, said in a statement following Blum’s death. “Dick helped UC leaders navigate some of our toughest challenges and contributed to shaping the trajectory of the University for years to come.”

When it came to Blum’s personal passion, his love of the Himalayas was well-known, beginning when Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first men to summit Mount Everest in 1953. It was not until 1969 that Blum first visited the region, but he would frequently return in the subsequent years.

Blum translated his love of Nepal into social action, forming the American Himalayan Foundation in 1981 with a mission of supporting those in need throughout the Himalaya region.

“Richard will be dearly missed around the world,” the nonprofit organization wrote in a statement issued after Blum’s passing. “While words cannot adequately express our sadness, we know his spirit is soaring over the mountains he loved so much as Tibetan nuns and monks chant prayers for him.”

Blum also championed the political career of his wife, Senator Dianne Feinstein, who recalled his passion for the Himalayan region. “As a role model, Dick was second to none, and I think his compassion and devotion to the people of the Himalayan region may prove to be his most enduring legacy,” Feinstein said in a statement following Blum’s death. “His friendship with the Dalai Lama helped shape us, and his creation of the American Himalayan Foundation was one of his proudest achievements.”

Blum’s interest in the developing world never waned. He founded the Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley in 2006, which continues to this day.

“Each one of us has a role to play in resolving the great challenges of the day,” he wrote in his book An Accident of Geography: Compassion, Innovation, and the Fight Against Poverty, which the American Himalayan Foundation excerpted in its online tribute to Blum. “It all matters, and every contribution that helps push in the right direction makes a difference. If you continue this work for the rest of your life, you’ll be glad you did. I’m certainly glad I have.”

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