Philanthropist Sam Rose believes in good luck. Luck offered him a lacrosse scholarship to Dickinson College, jumpstarted his career in commercial real estate, and offered him a lifelong mentor in renowned developer Jim Rouse. “So much in life is luck. I’ve had plenty of setbacks and failures, but something has always saved me. We all need a little good luck.”
But when it comes to his giving, Sam considers himself a true realist. “Somewhere along the way, I felt like doing good wasn’t helping your children get rich. It was educating them.” As a self-starter whose father didn’t believe in education, Sam focuses one area of his giving on providing undergraduate scholarships for underrepresented youth and students of color at his alma maters, Dickinson College and The University of Baltimore School of Law. “I get these wonderful letters from kids saying, ‘you have given me the chance to go to college.’ There’s nothing better than reading those letters.” Sam also recently donated funds to create a law clinic at UB School of Law to address racial disparity and inequity within criminal justice.
Sam’s generosity is not lost on those who cross his path. “Sam is one of the most generous people you will ever meet,” says Stan Smith, a long-time friend. “But he would never tell you that. He’s put so many kids through college that we have all lost count.”
Sam’s passions and realism extend beyond the classroom and the court to nature and the arts—to Picasso and climate change, existentialism and surrealism. Sam supports Rare, the NRDC, the American Prairie Conservancy, and other environmental groups that focus on reducing humans’ impacts on the planet. “We don’t appreciate the earth. It’s amazing, the whole story of how this all came to be,” he says, his voice tinged with passion. “And giving to the environment gives me a good feeling.” In 2017, Rare’s CEO and President, Brett Jenks, was awarded the endowed Sam Rose ’58 and Julie Walters Prize at Dickinson College for Global Environmental Activism—prize money Rare used to launch its work on climate change and the then-nascent Center for Behavior & the Environment. “Education is a necessity if we are to understand the problems facing the natural world and its inhabitants,” he stresses.
But when it comes to climate change, Sam’s deep voice crescendos. “My generation caused climate change! Did I or we know [at the time] what methane or CO2 was? No, none of us did! But we are still responsible for it.” Rare credits Sam with pushing the organization to do more to help individuals reduce their carbon emissions; since that first gift, Rare has launched a U.S.-based climate program to inspire Americans to take meaningful everyday actions to reduce their emissions.
Despite his concern for climate change and the future, Sam makes time to pursue other passions: fishing and sailing, traveling, supporting the arts, and bison. “Bison are wonderful animals,” he exclaims, “and I’m trying to help bring them back.” He motions to the backyard, where a new life-sized bison sculpture will soon share space with his extensive modern art collection, beehive, and German Shepherd, Gretchen. He pauses, petting Grethen and staring at the landscape, and adds, “You gotta have fun in life.”