- The Washington Times - Monday, July 8, 2002

ROME Four decades ago, a cousin's interest-free loan put a Romanian refugee on the path to becoming a millionaire businessman.
Now the emigre entrepreneur is practicing gratitude on a grand scale, giving away three $1 million prizes with one string attached: that the recipients be generous too.
Dan David, 73, made his fortune inventing, patenting, developing and marketing photographic technologies, including automatic photo booths. This merchant philanthropist, now an Israeli citizen, is just as passionate about history and the lessons it teaches, so he created the Dan David Prizes, first awarded in Tel Aviv in May.
In an interview at his office a five-minute stroll from the Circus Maximus and Palatine Hill of ancient Rome Mr. David said the annual prizes can be won by anyone. A journalist, author, politician, entrepreneur, historian, astronomer, explorer even a city are some of the possibilities that he envisions.
The award, from a $100 million endowment, is "leashed only by time," Mr. David said. One of the three prizes is given for the dimension of the "past" for "emphasizing what we were in the past," he said. A second prize recognizes someone helping people to live better today, and the third rewards "creating, improving what we will be in the future."
Winners can do whatever they want with $900,000 of the prize, but the remaining $100,000 must be given away as grants to young researchers.
Mr. David never forgot how generosity turned his life around. His relative's $200,000 loan helped him get on his feet in business after he arrived in France in 1960. He emigrated after winning exit permission, following years of trying, from then communist Romania, where pro-Israel activities brought harassment.
For the last 10 years, he has been the chairman of Photo-Me International, based in London. He divides his time between London, Rome and Israel, where a 35-hall lecture building at Tel Aviv University was built with his money and is named after him.
The university handles the academic aspect of the prizes, which are financed by the Dan David Foundation.
Winners of the first prizes were the Warburg Institute Library in London, which focuses on classical studies; W. Daniel Hillis, a Los Angeles-based scientist, inventor and pioneer in parallel computers; and three scientists working in biogenetics: Sydney Brenner, Robert Waterson and Sir John Sulston.
A month after winning, Mr. Hillis said he was still pondering what to do with his $900,000, calling it "a delightful problem to have."
"Since it's the first time they gave the prizes, I had never heard of it. It really came out of the blue," Mr. Hillis said in a telephone interview from the United States.
Mr. Hillis, who said he wasn't told who nominated him, is thinking about using some of the prize for seed money for a project to build "a very large mechanical clock" that could run for 10,000 years.
It is "to get people thinking about 10,000 years," said the scientist. In his field of high technology, "a long-term plan is a two-year one," he said.
Those reviewing nominations included historians, scientists including two Nobel Prize winners, and business executives.
Mr. Hillis said that Mr. David "struck me as a very happy man," and that "he's discovered a way of multiplying that happiness."
Mr. David has no shortage of ideas of who should win.
But he said, "I was told, 'If you want the academic world to consider your prize seriously, please refrain from lobbying.'" A gentle-mannered man who often averted his eyes when speaking, Mr. David flashed an impish grin when he recalled being told, "You could, perhaps, suggest a suggestion" about a nominee.
For the past, he feels Rome deserves the prize for what it gave to Western civilization and for the connection the modern city makes with the ancient world. "When I'm in Rome, I cycle on Sundays through the city, and I feel this atmosphere. Every stone suggests something to you."
"If Rome had won the prize, the money wouldn't have gone to the ordinary budget, like for garbage collection, but to open more excavations to visitors," he said.
As for the award for helping to make life better now, Mr. David also has no doubt. "I would have liked Rudy Giuliani" for how the former mayor of New York inspired his city during the trauma from the September 11 attacks. Mr. David said a nomination for Mr. Giuliani arrived too late.
Among the many possible disciplines listed as eligible for prizes is one described as "conflict resolution."
"Call it peace," said the businessman.


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