How Andrew CARNEGIE Is STILL Giving Today; the UK Trust Set Up in the Scottish Steel Billionaire's Name in 1913 Has Doled out [Pounds Sterling]500m in the Past Century
Byline: by Jim McBeth
IN light of his later reputation for munificence, it was an inconsequential gift - a bottle of whisky presented with the compliments of Andrew Carnegie to three tipsy chaps who had imbibed the entire supply of amber nectar in their Highland hideaway.
The gentlemen in question - the writer Rudyard Kipling, his father John and the artist Sir Philip Burne-Jones - were ensconced in the Old Manse in Creich, Sutherland. Far from a fresh supply of the Cratur, Burne-Jones came up with a plan.
He sketched a 'letter', showing the three of them weeping around an empty bottle, which was sent to nearby Skibo Castle, where the Fife-born US steel billionaire and his wife, Louise, were in residence.
A little while later, an emissary arrived with a new bottle. Carnegie was rewarded with another pen portrait - of the men gathered happily round his gift.
It was a small act of kindness by a man who would dispose of a fortune worth the equivalent of [pounds sterling]167billion today - and until his death in 1919, the sketches from that evening in 1899 had pride of place in Skibo.
Today, they hang on the wall of the Old Manse at Creich, in the care of Carnegie's great-grandson William Thomson. They represent one of the few treasures inherited from a relative who decreed that, no matter how rich he had become, his descendants would make own their way in the world without the benefit of his billions.
'I also have a few books, including a particularly nice one on the Forth Bridge,' says Mr Thomson, a 66-year-old retired lawyer and financier who has spent his life helping distribute Carnegie's money to good causes. There are those who might regard his commitment to giving away the 'family' billions as ironic - and it is a philosophy unlikely to find favour in, for example, the Kardashian, Hilton and Ecclestone households.
But for the honorary president of the Carnegie UK Trust - which is about to celebrate its centenary - it has been a way of life and one he has been happy to embrace.
'My mother and father earned their living, as I - and my four children - have done,' adds Mr Thomson. 'My four grandchildren will do the same. It is a family ethos and something of which we are proud.' Carnegie's great-grandson and his four sisters grew up in Edinburgh, where their father was a judge. Their mother, Louise, died from polio at the age of 28 in 1947, when Mr Thomson was an infant.
'It was not a life of privilege,' he says. 'It's difficult to classify these things, but you could describe it as upper middle class. Carnegie was an opponent of inherited wealth.' As a result, the Carnegie UK Trust, set up in 1913 as the last of his international charitable foundations, has given away the equivalent of [pounds sterling]500million.
Mr Thomson and his family have not benefited from the huge sums amassed by his great-grandfather - but as a child in the 1950s, he was exposed to the billionaire lifestyle by his grandmother Margaret, Carnegie's only child. He adds: 'After the death of my mother, my grandmother, who lived at Skibo, decreed the castle should be our home in the holidays. We spent three months of the year there.
'Andrew's influence was strong, in the walls, pictures and books. It was impossible to escape it.
'As a boy, life at Skibo was formal. One changed for dinner every night at 7.30pm. The children had to be down at 7pm to make sure any guests had drinks and that sort of thing. You had to be very polite.' Although born three decades after his great-grandfather's death, Mr Thomson could feel the weight of Carnegie's spectral hand. 'We were conscious he had left behind a fantastic reputational inheritance, first as a figure in industry and then for philanthropy,' he says.
Carnegie's generosity is well known and applauded, but he has also been portrayed as a ruthless robber baron.
'He was, of course, a man of his times,' adds Mr Thomson. …