City's reaction to 9-11 typifies selfless, can-do attitude of Boone Knox

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The recent passing of Boone Knox has invoked many memories I have of Boone's wit, huge intelligence, compassion and generosity to others, both financially and from pure human empathy. My generation of Augustans has been very fortunate to have been mentored and inspired by two great examples -- Boone and Augusta Chronicle Publisher Billy Morris -- of how a life is well-lived and how and why you should give back to your community.

RECENTLY, THE SALVATION Army asked some of us if we knew any good Boone Knox stories that could be used in connection with the announcement of the Boone Knox Tower at the new Kroc Center. If you knew Boone, you surely had a good Boone Knox story, and the following is mine.

Within days after the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy, Boone called Mayor Bob Young and Community Foundation of the CSRA Director Lee Smith to start the ball rolling on raising a substantial gift for New Yorkers affected by the attacks. Boone was moved to tears as he watched the scenes on television of the brave firemen, policemen and other officials entering the World Trade Center, knowing full well the imminent danger to which they were subjecting themselves.

Recounting those scenes to Young, Boone wanted to be of service to the people of New York in their time of dire need. There is no more flexible way to help people in need than with a gift of cash, and Boone wanted to help those people and their families.

Raising $1 million within 10 days was the immediate goal. Boone put up his own Knox Foundation money as the lead gift; organized his friends to put up several hundred thousand more as a core gift; and pressed community leaders and government officials to beat the drum until the $1 million goal was reached.

Augusta was the first city to deliver a substantial gift to the people of New York, and amazingly the gift was delivered within 17 days of the attacks. No other city I know of the size of metropolitan Augusta made so substantial a gift, nor made a gift so quickly. Boone thought of the gift, put his money where his heart was, organized the drive and completed the project.

Boone felt all of America was injured, and positive action needed to be taken to stem the fear and chaos enveloping the nation. Boone's idea was that he would begin and lead an effort to solicit major donations and a fund would be established at the Community Foundation of the CSRA for smaller donations from anyone from the area who also was touched by the magnitude of the suffering that occurred in New York.

AS WAS TYPICAL of Boone's approach, he recruited Young to be the organizational force and public face of the effort. As they say, the rest is history. Boone committed $100,000 and quickly raised $300,000 from several larger donors. The mayor and the press stayed with the project, and on Sept. 28, 2001, a check for $1,018,513.05 was delivered to New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani by officials from Augusta, Columbia and Edgefield counties, two Augusta firefighters and several Augusta business leaders.

The gift was the largest single short-term fund-raising effort in CSRA history, and it is noteworthy that, in true Boone Knox style, the gift was immediately spendable cash and did not contain any pledges.

Many people knew and have come to know that Boone was the inspiration and a major source of this gift, but that is not the point to the story. Boone had been serving others through philanthropic endeavors for most of his adult life. The point of this story is that when the sky -- and the Dow Jones Industrial Average-- fell, and when there was fear in the air, Boone generated the idea of a cash gift and generated the funding for the gift.

The Dow closed at 9,605.51 on Sept. 10, 2001. Unknown to market participants that afternoon, financial markets would not re-open until the following Monday, Sept. 17, after its longest closure since the outbreak of World War I. As palpable fear and uncertainty permeated markets that Monday morning, the Dow opened at 8,920 and rumbled at severely depressed levels to close the week at 8,235.

WITH THE UNTHINKABLE now a reality, it was unclear how much worse conditions might become. As a result of the extraordinary spirit and noble leadership of Americans such as Boone Knox, the market did not fall into oblivion, and the Dow ended the year higher than its close on the day preceding 9-11 -- closing at 10,021.

Boone's gift to the people of New York and the gifts his leadership inspired from his fellow Augustans came at a time when most were justifiably concerned for their own livelihoods and well-being. Boone was focused on something greater than himself.

The days immediately after the 9-11 attack marked a period of unprecedented emotional and economic turmoil in America. People across America would love to be able to say, almost 10 years later, that in New York's time of need, they responded. Thanks to Boone's leadership, Augustans can say that. As a community, we did respond.

Opportunities to show your true colors and character do not come along every day. An Augustan can strike up a conversation with any longtime New Yorker and mention that time, and that within two weeks of 9-11 our city had raised and delivered a $1 million gift to the people of New York and that Augusta was the first city in America to make that kind of gift to New York -- and you will immediately see and know the gratitude and sincere appreciation of that New Yorker.

So many cities would love to have this history and would love to be able to say that, when it counted, they came to their fellow countrymen's aid. Because of Boone Knox, the city of Augusta has this enduring legacy.

(The writer is a member manager of Hull Storey Gibson Cos. LLC of Augusta.)


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