Harold gave vast amounts of his fortune to hospitals and universities. In the days to come, we'll learn more as his estate is settled. I suspect we will be stunned. But why the millions upon millions to political and public policy causes? What could a man worth such a vast fortune -- billions -- stand to gain? Nothing, really. Except the satisfaction knowing he was helping the most important thing to him after his faith and his family: his country.
Former President Ronald Reagan used to refer to the average American who did his bit for his country as the "American hero." As average billionaires go, Harold was an American hero.
I last visited Harold a few weeks ago. Several people had warned me that recently his health had deteriorated dramatically. I saw nothing of the sort. He was as sharp and pleasant as ever. He looked good, too. I laid out my thinking for an ambitious new political adventure, one that would require tens of millions of dollars. "Could we have that conversation?" I asked. "Not yet," he answered. He needed to tend to some business concerns. But he wanted me to know he was definitely interested. Come back in six months, he said.
This meeting will never happen. How does one react to that? Let us put it in perspective.
There is a wonderful story told about Philip II of Spain, who in 1588 had already bankrupted his country twice to build the most formidable navy in history to defeat the Protestant forces of England's Queen Elizabeth. He awaited news at his massive imperial compound in El Escorial. And when the courier finally arrived, it was with the worst news imaginable: All is lost; the navy had been destroyed. Philip's reaction was one for the ages. If he was crushed, history did not record it. Instead we know he immediately ordered a Te Deum Mass to be offered, giving glory to God, accepting without question His will.
I will miss Harold. He cannot be replaced. There is sadness, yes, but there is also immediate gratitude owed providence. It was willed that our nation be given Harold Simmons and that some of us would be honored to know him. This gift continues forever.