Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
Samuel Rubin - New York philanthropist, founder of Faberge, consistently successful businessman - stood before the large audience at Howard University Thursday night, where he had just received an award from a prominent leftist think tank here.
The other award winner, the Rev. Benjamin Chavis of the "Wilmington 10," could not leave a North Carolina prison to accept his plaque.
"If it were only possible for me to change places (with Chavis) this evening," said the 76-year-old Rubin, "I would feel nonored and privileged to be behind the bars."
The audience of 500 roared with applause.
"Clearly," Rubin said, "it is lust for power for the last dollar of profit and the last ounce of power under the guise of democracy and the free enterprise system that permits banks and multinational corporations to reap their harvest at the expense of the poor while encouraging despotic regimes to deprive their people of the right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Rubin and Chavis, whose mother, Elizabeth Chavis, picked up his award, were honored by the Institute of Policy Studies for their "lifetime work on behalf of human rights."
Rubin, president of the Samuel Rubin Foundation which he started in the late 1940s, has brought artists and musicians to this country to study, funded failing hospitals in New York, started the American Symphony Orchestra (with Leopold Stowkowski), and founded the Transnational Institute, an organization that studies "the dispartly between rich and poor people" and "investigates its causes."
In addition, he has been a principal backer of the Institute of Policy Studies. The awards last night were given in memory of institute members Orlando Letelier, former Chilean ambassador to the United States, and Ronni Moffitt, both of whom were killed here in a bomb explosion in Letelier's car two years ago.
Rubin, who arrived in the United States from Russia at the age of 5 with his impoverished immigrant parents and grew up to head the giant cosmetic and perfume company, has spent much of his life trying to resolve the disparity between rich and poor.
Talking about this in his hotel room before the award ceremony Thursday, Rubin, his browned face etched deeply with lines that make him look like physicist Albert Einstein, grew solemn.
"As long as I know of one child who goes to bed hungry," he said, raising an index finger in the air, "I know we will have missed our commitment to humanity. Everyone has the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That includes food, shelter, transportation."
"I never had that lust for profit," he said, "although profit managed to come in without sacrifice to my health. At 76 I am still playing tennis three times a week."
He grew up in Ozone Park on Long Island in New York, where he spent most of his time helping his parents run their general variety store. He finished elementary school, but he never liked it much. "I didn't understand geography, and English and history . . . it was a normal childhood as far as poverty goes. My mother used to tear a napkin in half so my sister and I could each have one."
Once after Rubin had stood on a street corner in New York playing the harmonica, a man named Cornelius Peters came up, took him by the hand back to his home, and asked Rubin's parents if they would let their young son take violin lessons.
Through the rest of his childhood and most of his teen years he was trained to be a concert violinist. Then one day when he was 17 years old, he went to see concert violinist Jascha Heifetz. Rubin rose in the middle of the concert and left. "I decided I never wanted to play second fiddle to Jascha Heifetz," he said.
After that he continued to help his parents in the general store, but knew he had to leave. "One had to earn a living and I never had a desire to be employed by anyone else." So with $400 he went to New York to go into business for himself.
He started a trading company in 1925. He ran it for the next 12 years, then when the United States boycotted Spain - the country he was trading with - he ended the business.
He next turned to perfume, mainly because of his interest in packaging, he said.
Doodling on a bit of cardboard from his freshly laundered shirts, he drew up the design of a cylindrical bottle with a simple cylindrical top that looked like an extension of the bottle. He patented it. It immediately became popular, and proved to be the model for not only other perfumes but aerosol cans as well.
Building the Faberge company as a small company that sold a line of products only to one select store in each big city - "that tantalized the other stores" - Rubin found that the perfumes became very popular.
He sold the company in 1963 for $25 million, giving most of the money, he said, to his Samuel Rubin Foundation. "There appeared to be no more challenge in what I was accomplishing at Faberge," he said. "There's a limit to what one considers success."
Through it all, he said, "I never gave my business more than half my time. So I went to concerts and museums while my competitors sat behind their desks. We (at Faberge) never sought the maximum capacity for volume."
"I live unlike wealthy men. I have no car or chauffeur. I rent from Avis or Hertz," he said, laughing. "I have no yacht, no private plane, I don't go out to eat much. I don't trust restaurant kitchens. I enjoy conversations at home. I like worn shoes. I walk instead of taking expensive taxis."
Rubin's philanthropic feats are matched in another arena by his daughter, Cora Weiss, 44, who in 1972 as a member of an antiwar group brought back to the United States the first three POWs from Hanoi released to the American government, Rubin said.