Donors In Focus: Richard Goldsmith Planted The Seed For San Antonio’s Philanthropic Bastion
By Hernán Rozemberg
SAN ANTONIO — He walks around from one end to another of his home office, pointing out family portraits in one corner, then pivoting to stacked bookshelves filled with historical documents in another.
Outside, his welcoming and ornate backyard has various neat piles of trimmed tree branches – fruit of his labor over the preceding week.
He’s 87 now and has had to slow down a bit, sighing in frustration when he can’t recall details from decades-old events. But it’s easy to tell that Richard Goldsmith has not missed a beat and his active schedule indicates he’s very much the sharp, bright and creative mind who came up with the idea to start San Antonio’s first community foundation.
Little would he know at that time, nearly 60 years ago, that his little project would eventually turn into the preeminent nucleus for philanthropy and nonprofit support in our region and among the largest community foundations across the country (according to asset size – approximately $1 billion).
Not that he’s actually surprised of just how far the San Antonio Area Foundation has come since those early days, mind you.
“At that time, there was no other organization like this in Texas,” Goldsmith recalled during a lengthy interview in his Olmos Park home this month. “I always remained confident that we would do well and that it would grow significantly.”
Goldsmith was born in Los Angeles, but his family moved to San Antonio shortly thereafter and he has since called the Alamo City home. After graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School, he pursued higher education at Harvard College with a Bachelor’s in American History, then staying at Harvard to earn a law degree.
His family had already laid down deep roots in San Antonio after moving from Arkansas. At just 21, his father, Nat Goldsmith, started what turned out to be a successful wholesale grocery business, Blue Star Ice & Cold Storage – now home to Blue Star Contemporary, a cultural arts nonprofit and Area Foundation grantee.
Nat Goldsmith was also keenly interested in public service, starting various local organizations, including one assisting tuberculosis patients, his son recalled, rattling off a list of accomplishments: Appointed by former Gov. Price Daniel to the State Board of State Hospitals and Special Schools, serving as the youngest president of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and helping start San Antonio Community Chest, the organization we now know as the United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County.
After a stint in the U.S. Air Force, Richard Goldsmith returned to San Antonio to practice law, joining the largest local firm. Initially, he engaged in general law but eventually he specialized in the legal aspects of estate planning. He also added to his portfolio with an advanced degree in tax law.
After his father’s passing in 1963, Richard Goldsmith said that his uncle Mannie approached him with a challenge – he would give him $10,000 a year over a decade to do something beneficial to the community in his father’s name.
He did a little digging and came up with what he thought was an innovative and promising idea.
“I didn’t want the money to be exhausted in various charities so I thought of creating an organization that could combine my uncle’s gift with that of others who wanted their gifts to go to charity so they could be preserved,” Goldsmith recalled. “I soon learned that was precisely the work of community foundations.”
The intent was to help the entire region and that’s why the organization was named San Antonio Area Foundation. It was an all-volunteer effort back then. Donations were modest until 1978, when Semp Ross made a historic $2.9 million donation, which eventually gave way to the hiring of Katherine Netting Folbre as the first executive director and a small supporting staff. Goldsmith himself closed his law office and joined the Area Foundation staff as General Counsel for nearly a decade.
The Area Foundation grew exponentially, reaching $50 million in assets by 1996 and then doubling in assets just four years later. Another historical milestone was the contribution (total assets of more than $600 million) to the Area Foundation by John L. Santikos after his passing in 2014.
That monumental turning point was reached by a simple suggestion Richard Goldsmith made to Santikos. At that time, Goldsmith had his estate planning law practice and Santikos was one of his clients. During a discussion over his will, Santikos indicated he wanted to leave $5 million to his sister.
What about the rest, Goldsmith asked him? Besides an American organization helping Greece and Doctors Without Borders, Santikos didn’t have that part fully figured out, so Goldsmith recommended donating it to charity through the Area Foundation – and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
“Santikos was a very interesting and unusual man,” Goldsmith recalled. “Back then I had no idea that he had that much wealth. I immediately thought how wonderful of him.”
These days, though retired and having turned over the reins of the Area Foundation long ago, he’s never far from the organization. He still maintains his own personal charitable fund, assisting the Jewish Federation of San Antonio.
His daughters Ruth and Joan have their own funds with the Area Foundation as well – cliché and all, but obviously the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. It’s all part of the quintessential and perennial legacy that Richard Goldsmith has left at the Area Foundation.
“My hope is that it continues to be a vibrant organization,” Goldsmith said. “It should continue to grow and remain a major contributor. As far as I see it, there should always be a role for the San Antonio Area Foundation in our community.”
All his hard work has gone toward making sure that is the case.
Clarence “Reggie” Williams is part of Richard Goldsmith’s legacy at the Area Foundation. Williams was hired as President and CEO in 2000, a position which he held for slightly over a decade. It was his call to bring back the organization’s founder to the fold as General Counsel.
“If people heard us talking, they would’ve thought we fought all the time, but we were the best of friends,” said Williams. “We always came out smiling and laughing.”
Williams lauded Goldsmith and his wife, Toni, for essentially being the embodiment of what the Area Foundation stands for.
“They are totally community-oriented people. Caring in the most selfless way. Wonderful. Just wonderful people,” Williams said.
There are countless other wonderful people here in San Antonio. We’re lucky at the Area Foundation to live in such a caring, giving community. If you or someone you know would be interested in following the footsteps of John L. Santikos in giving back by opening a charitable fund with the Area Foundation, please go here to learn about the process – it’s a lot easier and simpler than many people think.
Hernán Rozemberg is the Director of Communications and Storytelling in the Area Foundation’s Marketing and Communications Department.