When President Obama first took office in early 2008, the country was just entering a financial collapse still being felt even today, eight years later. During Obama’s first speech to the new Congress, he mentioned the generosity of a special man in South Florida: Leonard Abess.
“Hope is found in unlikely places,” said the president. “I think Leonard Abess, the bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him.”
Perhaps that story, more than the many others, sums up what this generous philanthropist is all about.
Abess’ parents were both Jewish immigrants from Romania. Abess grew up in Providence, Rhode Island and moved to Miami to take the job as an independent auditor for the First National Bank of Florida. Joining with Baron de Hirsch Meyer he co-founded City National Bank in 1946.
In 1949, when local hospitals refused to hire Jewish doctors, Abess and other Jewish residents pooled together their funds and built the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach.
He was a trustee of the University of Miami and established the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy with a $5 million donation in 2006.
But his unprecedented decision to share $60 million of his wealth with 399 workers and 72 former employees, is certainly one of the many ways he is remembered.