- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2000

William E. Simon was perhaps best known to those who followed the news as a financial wizard, a former Treasury secretary and the crusty "energy czar" during the 1970s fuel crisis. But there was another side to him that couldn't be measured through the Dow-Jones Industrial Average: His spirituality.

Bill Simon was a member of the Knights of Malta, the highest lay order in the Roman Catholic church. He made pilgrimages to Lourdes, the Catholic shrine at the foot of the Pyrenees in France. He also endowed the William E. Simon chair in religion and a free society at the Heritage Foundation. But Bill, who died last Saturday at 72, proved his faith even without these public badges.

For years, he used to get up early on Christmas morning and drive to Covenant House, a runaway youth shelter in New York. When his children were old enough, he brought them along, too. They worked in the kitchen. They served meals. Afterward, they distributed presents and spent time with teen-agers and unwed mothers young people who had hit rock bottom.

Bill was greatly moved by an essay published in 1889 by another millionaire with strong spirituality, Andrew Carnegie. Bill said one excerpt from Carnegie's essay, "Wealth," held particular importance to him:

"The gospel of wealth but echoes Christ's words. It calls upon the millionaire to sell all that he hath and give it in the highest and best form to the poor by administering his estate for himself and the good of his fellows, before he is called to lie down and rest upon the bosom of Mother Earth."

Bill took those words to heart until the end, when he asked that his entire $350 million fortune be given to charity after his death.

Bill also was concerned about the decline of spirituality, and the moral values it teaches, in modern America. He once spoke about the bigotry he experienced growing up in New Jersey during the 1940s and 1950s. He recalled the time a friend of his father visited and tried to get a hotel room, but couldn't, because he was Jewish.

Bill remembered wanting to join a local tennis club as a teen-ager. He asked a friend to sponsor him, and the friend said, "No, get some Protestants to sponsor you. They are not really fans of Catholics here, either." That's one of the reasons he gave generously to the Heritage Foundation to support a fellowship to study the role of religion in contemporary America.

But I think the strongest measure of Bill's faith was his ministry to patients who were terminally ill and often destitute. For years, he would visit people with diseases such as AIDS and would give them communion wafers and rosary beads even rub holy water on them.

I don't know how many people left this life with their souls at peace because of Bill, but they must number in the hundreds. I do know Bill was at peace. "My Eucharistic ministry is the most important thing that I do and have ever done," he said once in an interview. "Writing checks for charities is necessary and important, but it can't compare with the corporal works of mercy, which are infinitely greater."

Here's a story in Bill's own words. It was part of an answer to the question: How do you find God?

"I was visiting a young man who was dying of AIDS," Bill wrote. "His body was pitifully thin, racked with pain. As we prayed together, I looked down on this poor soul and remembered Christ's words, 'Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.'

"I've thought about that moment several times since. And I realize that I was not just looking into the face of that young man. I was looking directly into the eyes of Christ."

I have searched for words that would sum up, or at least characterize, this man and his life. I think Walter Lippmann comes close: "The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and will to carry on."

It is rare when a man exhibits both the vast worldly achievement and the deep spiritual strength that Bill Simon can claim. May he rest in peace.

Edwin J. Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation.

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