Monday, December 22, 2008

No Place for Schadenfreude

In Saturday's WSJ, the lead article is "The World of Madoff and His Clients." Adjacent to it is an article about Burt Ross, a former stockbroker, commercial real estate operator, former mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., husband and father. Mr. Ross is one year younger than I, has lived in the same house for 33 years where he raised his family, and lost his $5 million savings to Madoff. The article shows him to be a thoroughly decent man, someone whose sense of decency led him to submit to interviews by the WSJ that must have been painful and embarrassing for him but nevertheless provide an important lesson for the rest of us. I hope you can read the entire article, but here are some important or poignant excerpts:

Mr. Ross says he remembers being puzzled about how Mr. Madoff was able to show positive returns, even in months when the stocks Mr. Madoff's fund owned were down. . . . He pushed such thoughts aside, "I thought, 'Who am I to question?'" Mr. Ross says. "This guy has a formula involving computerized trading . . It's like Coke. We're not supposed to know the formula."

* * *

[Mr. Ross] says he cried when his 24-year-old daughter offered him reassuring words. On Thursday, he explained to his 22-year-old son, who had just completed his last college exam, that much of his inheritance was gone, and his son also comforted him.

* * *

Mr. Ross's wife, Joan, says she had always been nervous about whether their money was safe with Mr. Madoff. "We would revisit the issue from time to time," she recalls. "He was concerned about growth. When the market looked shaky, my concern was to preserve what we have until things settled down." She urged him to consider a safe alternative, such as Treasurys.

This morning, my readings were in 1 Timothy. There were rich men in the church in Ephesus, where Timothy was ministering. Paul writes this to Timothy at the end of the fifth chapter:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

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