Julian Price walked into my office one day in 1990. He was a big man, well over six feet tall, with kind eyes and a shy, introspective air. He’d recently returned to North Carolina after living on the West Coast for twenty years, he said, and wanted me to know how much The Sun meant to him.
Despite his somewhat rumpled appearance, he turned out to be the scion of a prominent North Carolina family, as well as a man with deep convictions about protecting the environment and making cities better places to live. I was delighted by his thoughtful demeanor and wry, self-mocking wit. Before he left, he casually mentioned that he was involved with a philanthropic fund in the western part of the state that gave grants to struggling local nonprofits. I asked if the fund might consider a grant for a struggling nonprofit a little east of there. He smiled and shrugged. It wouldn’t hurt to apply, he said, then got into his weathered Volkswagen station wagon and drove off.
A few days later, I wrote to Julian to say I wanted to apply for a grant, but needed some advice. I told him The Sun had many pressing needs, and I listed them with a price tag next to each. What kind of proposal did he think might stand the best chance?
After a couple of weeks went by with no reply, I assumed I’d read too much into Julian’s smile. Then I heard from him. He didn’t have any advice for me, his letter said. But that was because I wouldn’t need to apply. Julian had neglected to mention that he was the philanthropist who’d started the fund. So he’d gone ahead and added up all the items on my list. Then he’d written The Sun a check for fifty thousand dollars.
As soon as the room stopped spinning and my heart stopped pounding — I’d started The Sun in 1974 with exactly fifty dollars — I picked up the phone. Julian listened politely as I tried to convey the depth of my gratitude; then he kindly but firmly told me I’d said enough. He believed in The Sun, he said matter-of-factly, and wanted it to grow. If more people read the magazine, the world would be a better place for all of us, including him. That was what he wanted, he said. He wasn’t looking for applause.
Last year, just two weeks before Christmas, I was among hundreds of people who attended a memorial service for Julian in Asheville, North Carolina. Though Julian and I had kept in touch over the years, I didn’t realize how profoundly he’d affected this city he’d grown to love until I heard what was said about him that day. What was remarkable about Julian, one speaker after another agreed, wasn’t just that he’d chosen to live simply and give most of his money away, but the spirit in which he’d extended himself. Whether he was supporting downtown revitalization, or affordable housing and healthcare, or public radio, or an “alternative reading room,” he always worked quietly and behind the scenes. What mattered to this humble and self-effacing man wasn’t winning praise — dodging the limelight seemed to be his favorite exercise — but making a genuine difference in people’s lives. And as the hundreds of organizations to which he lent his support flourished, Asheville was transformed.
As the holiday season approaches this year, I think of Julian because his death from cancer, at the age of sixty, reminded me what a short time we have on this earth, and because his life reminds me what a difference we can make while we’re here. Julian gave to The Sun because he believed the magazine makes a difference, reminding us each month that living according to our deepest values matters, that nurturing each other’s dreams matters, that honesty matters, that compassion matters.
Perhaps The Sun would make a difference in the life of someone you know. Once again, we’re offering holiday gift subscriptions this year at half price: a one-year subscription, usually $34, is only $17. There’s no limit on the number of half-price subscriptions you may order. (Sorry, but you can’t renew your own subscription as part of this offer.)
As a holiday gift, you may also want to give one of our books: The Best of The Sun, Volumes I, II, and III; Sunbeams: A Book of Quotations; or Four in the Morning: Essays by Sy Safransky. For the holidays, all books are on sale for 15 percent off the cover price. And if you order all three volumes of The Best of The Sun, you’ll save 20 percent. Our holiday offer is good until December 31, 2002, but an early reply helps us process your order more quickly. We’ll send a gift card announcing your gift. And we’ll bill you later, if you wish.
Since the day I met Julian, The Sun’s readership has grown from ten thousand to more than fifty thousand. I have many people to thank for this, especially Sun subscribers who have given the magazine as a gift. There’s no question, however, that Julian’s generosity ushered in a new era for The Sun. He opened a door for us with a little humor and a lot of dignity, and never asked for a single favor in return.
Editor, The Sun
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