James A. “Sneaky” White, Jr. (b. 1939) was born in London, England. He was adopted by a Jewish couple from Connecticut as a child, and never knew his biological parents. White grew up in a kosher home, and regularly went to the synagogue. He studied at Texas A&M, then enlisted in the US military where he served for the next decade and rose to the rank of sergeant. White did a tour in Cuba in 1965, followed by four tours in Vietnam as a marine and helicopter pilot. He earned over twenty medals, including three silver stars and a Distinguished Flying Cross for “uncommon courage, bold initiative and selfless devotion to duty at great personal risk.” Once, he ran across a field studded with land mines and emerged unharmed, for which he was given the nickname “Sneaky”. As with many Vietnam veterans, White returned to the US disabled and broke. He made a living working various jobs. In 1975 he met Nancy, the love of his life, and they married several years later. Nancy’s abusive ex-husband threatened the newlyweds, then sexually assaulted a step-daughter. In a fit of rage, White shot and killed the man. He turned himself in to police immediately. Despite suffering from PTSD, White was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He decided to make the most out of his incarceration. White took college courses, subscribed to as many magazines as he could, started studying Torah, became deeply religious, and even published a book. He wanted to help other war veterans who struggled like he did and co-founded a veterans’ support group, as well as a chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous. After reading about recidivism rates, White decided to start a program to get inmates educated and keep them out of prison. Through his program, over 1500 of his fellow inmates went on to get college degrees. White ran a charity, too (from prison!) and raised over $350,000 for numerous causes. He recently donated his long hair for charity as well. White personally saved the lives of at least two inmates and one guard. He became an inspiration to countless people, and even gave a TEDx talk in 2014 (see here). Over the years, many have tried to get him pardoned and released. The campaign finally succeeded earlier this year when California’s governor intervened, and White was freed on January 21st after some 40 years in prison. In his own words: “I just want people to know that even in prison we can do mitzvahs and do something good for society. Just because a person commits a crime, it doesn’t mean that he or she is no longer a worthy person.”
Words of the Week
You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you. – Walt Disney
Philippe Kahn (b. 1952) was born in Paris, France to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. His mother fought alongside the French in World War II (with the rank of lieutenant), and went on to survive Auschwitz. Kahn studied in Zurich and Nice, attaining master’s degrees in both mathematics and music. During his studies, he wrote software for the world’s first modern personal computer, the French-made MICRAL of 1973. In 1982, he started his own company in California called Borland. It was one of the first start-ups to create software development tools, and stood out from other companies as it offered incredibly cheap products. (Its Turbo Pascal, for example, cost only $50 compared to the thousands of dollars that similar tools cost.) Over the next ten years, Kahn transformed Borland into a computer powerhouse with $500 million in revenue. However, a number of disagreements led to the board squeezing him out of his own company. Kahn took his severance pay and started a new company, Starfish. Just a few years later, he sold it to Motorola for a whopping $325 million. Around this time, Kahn’s daughter was born, and he got frustrated at his inability to quickly send baby photos to friends and family. He fiddled with his camera and his phone until he managed to link the two. He then sent history’s first photograph through a cellphone. This inspired him to develop the camera-phone, making it the focus of his new startup, LightSurf Technologies. This company, too, was bought out for $300 million. Since then, Kahn has started yet another company that designs and develops wearable technology. He is also an avid sailor, holding the world record for fastest San Francisco to Hawaii trip, and recently winning the Transpacific Yacht Race from LA to Hawaii. Kahn is credited with inventing the now-ubiquitous camera phone, and TIME Magazine included his first phone photograph in its 2016 list of the 100 Most Influential Photos of All Time.
Lawrence Joseph Ellison (b. 1944) was born in New York and raised in Chicago by his aunt and uncle, who were his adoptive parents. Ellison studied computer programming at the University of Illinois but dropped out following the death of his adoptive mother. He moved to California shortly after, and bounced from one job to the next for eight years before settling at the Ampex Corporation. There, he worked on a project (code-named “Oracle”) to create database software for the CIA. A few years later, he put in $1200 of his own money (and $800 from two partners) to start a new company, Software Development Laboratories. By 1982, IBM started using their program and the company (now renamed Oracle Systems Corporation) was making millions. At the end of the first decade of the new millennium, Ellison was ranked as the highest-paid executive of any company, earning nearly $2 billion. Between 1997 and 2002, he was on the board of directors of Apple. In 2010, Ellison had Oracle acquire Sun Microsystems, another tech giant, for $7.4 billion. The following year, Forbes ranked Ellison the 5th richest person in the world. Aside from business, Ellison is a cup-winning yacht sailor, and a licensed pilot who owns two fighter planes. He has vast real estate holdings, and owns 98% of Lanai, the sixth largest island in Hawaii. Most importantly, Ellison is a huge philanthropist. By 2004, it was estimated that he had donated over $150 million. Since then, he has donated many millions more, including $10 million to the IDF, whom he described as “some of the bravest people in the world”. Most recently, Ellison donated a whopping $200 million to create a new cancer research centre at the University of Southern California. He has pledged to give as much as 95% of his wealth. Interestingly, he has also spent hundreds of millions on anti-aging research, saying that “death makes me very angry”.
Words of the Week
To become old is a grave sin. – Rabbi Nachman of Breslov