Finn Casperson was an enigma. He took. He gave.
by Charlie Leck
Finn Casperson, one of New Jersey’s very prominent citizens, died last week by his own hand. The news rattled me and my wife quite thoroughly and we looked at each other with frightened confusion. The question hung over our thick emotions: “Why? My God, why?”
We couldn’t, in any way, call him a friend. We knew him well enough, however, that he wouldn’t hesitate to call us for a chat about donating funds to one of his favorite organizations, the U.S. Equestrian Center, at Hamilton Farms, in Gladstone, New Jersey. Somehow, over the years, I also became a member of a couple of fairly unusual clubs of which he was also a member. And, we once found ourselves, quite coincidentally, as guests at a cocktail party aboard a yacht in the harbor of Stockholm, Sweden.
So, we had some opportunities to chat and to get to know one-another. We weren’t anything alike, but I enjoyed his company. Though Finn was enormously successful in many ways and had achieved great wealth and prominence (see the following story about his death), he wasn’t a bold and confident character. He was always hesitant in conversation and seemed nervous about engaging with people he didn’t know well. He liked his cocktails a great deal and talking with him became easier as he loosened himself up; however, very few people were ever going to get to know him very deeply. He had built up a strong defense system over the years and he was only going to let you glance at the surfaces of his character.
Nonetheless, I admired him for his successes and for his charitable habits. He ran Beneficial Finance Corporation for years and, when they sold out to Household International for 8.6 billion dollars in 1998, Finn walked off with over 25 million dollars to add to his already staggering wealth. At the time, William Aldinger, who was brought in to run Household’s new holding, had some pretty unflattering things to say about Caspersen’s management skills. He thought Finn spent too easily and too freely. That matched pretty closely to the guy we had gotten to know. Finn liked to live big, comfortably and obviously. We were at a couple of lavish and sumptuous parties at his home where no expense was spared.
Yet, Finn was also generous. He was a major supporter of Drew University, in Madison, New Jersey. He also gave large amounts to Brown University, Harvard College and Law School, and Morristown Memorial Hospital (a place where my mother spent a considerable amount of time during the last, painful years of her life).
It was clear, however, that the organization he loved most and to which he gave most of his time and effort was the United States Equestrian Team. That’s how we first got to know him. He supported both the riding program of the team and helped it develop a significant driving program. Under Caspersen’s direction, the U.S. teams, in a change from the past, became extremely competitive. While Finn was the chairman, the U.S. brought home 71 medals from international competitions and that included 25 gold medals.
“How could he do this?” My wife kept asking the question. She was stupefied. She was also angry.
“How selfish,” she ranted. “How selfish! Just think about poor Barbara, and his children, and his grandchildren.”
I tried to defend Finn. After all, we didn’t know what he was going through – what was going on in his life. Sure there were rumors of some severe financial reverses, but there were also stories about his health and that he was dealing with a significant amount of pain. Is that selfishness? Or, is it a loss of centeredness?
“When you’re in that state of confusion and agony,” I argued, “you don’t make good decisions. You only make desperate ones. It’s difficult to think of others when circumstance and pain won’t allow you to see anything but your own falibility and miserable condition.”
I wish I had gotten to know Finn better. I would have liked to find the quiet, confident and comfortable side of him. That never happened. Perhaps I should have worked harder at it, but that’s not my way either. Now, it’s too late anyway. Finn has moved on and out among the stars and he shall get to rest eternally. There will be no more pain and all confusions of mind and spirit become settled and clear. When he made his decision, in a fog of self-centeredness, that’s what he was seeking.
The following is a poem by Edward Arlington Robinson:
WHENEVER Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich—yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.