Benjamin Franklin is said to have included in the 1738 edition of “Poor Richard’s Almanac” a passage that nails my mission as a ghostwriter of memoirs: “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do something worth the writing.”
In 2010 I had the pleasure of being introduced to an octogenarian named Leonard Cordes whose philanthropic activities perfectly captured the latter part of this powerful quote. Two years later I helped him document poignant stories that were well worth sharing with family, friends and strangers – all of whom might be inspired by the memoir I ghostwrote for him (https://www.amazon.com/Discovered-Tikkun-Olam-Through-Philanthropy/dp/1481052233).
Leonard dreamed of one day writing a book about his life, but he wasn’t entirely comfortable with his writing skills. After all, he was a number-cruncher who retired from chartered accounting in Montreal, Canada, where he grew up the son of a hard-working, Borden Milk Co. supervisor. That ambition surfaced during a casual conversation with my sister Caron who kindly referred him my way. His rags-to-riches tale centered around a lifelong practice of giving to various charities, particularly in the area of Jewish-minded philanthropy.
Once I was able to fully absorb Leonard’s legacy, I suggested he actually incorporate it into the title of his memoir. I came up with “How I Discovered Tikkun Olam Through Philanthropy,” drawing on a Hebrew phrase whose meaning is to repair or mend the world. Leonard felt that by funding his favorite causes, he was doing his part to help make the world a better place.
A true believer in the importance of providing scholarships, coupled with strengthening the Jewish people, he was drawn to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a non-sectarian institution whose student body hailed from more than 50 countries at the time of our deeply satisfying collaboration. The school became the centerpiece of his philanthropic life since 1960.
His story is what ghostwriters and publisher call a legacy book, the main purpose of which is to document an individual’s life achievements – not land on a list of best-selling authors, though it would be a welcomed outcome.
Leonard was especially eager to detail his amazing journey for the great grandchildren he and his wife of many years, Mary, adored, as well as young people in general. I worked on landing him speaking engagements at Hillel, the largest Jewish campus organization in the world. His hope was to inspire them to aspire to become successful in business and philanthropists like him, doing their part to also help repair or mend the world. It was a noble vision for preserving not only Jewish life, but also improving the human condition.
Recently I was reminded of just how important the notion of legacy is to those who have made an indelible mark on society. The topic arose during an interview with Joe Milam, founder of The Legacy Funds and AngelSpan, Inc., as well as an expert in the psychology of wealth, estate planning, securities and portfolio management.
His work in the family office space is twofold: ensuring that the financial legacy of high net worth families is secure and helping them look beyond traditional philanthropy for vehicles to help burnish their qualitative legacies. One such avenue is impact investing, which he described in one of his thoughtful commentaries as having “a measurable, beneficial social or environmental impact alongside a financial return.”
I like to think of my book ghostwriting service as a conduit for helping accomplished people spread their legacy and document proud moments or family history for posterity. The beauty of an independently published memoir, with the help of on-demand printing, is that these details can be shared publicly or privately with as many people as the author is comfortable involving in the process. Whatever their decision, Ben Franklin would certainly approve that at least they wrote something worth reading, which more often than not, involves having done something worth writing about.