If there is a particularly inspiring “American way” — of doing business, of loving nation and community, of sheer gratitude and deep devotion to the Creator, of commitment to charity and to all else that conveys Mom, apple pie, Old Glory, patriotism, and self-evident truths — it was embodied, brilliantly and uniquely, by Richard Marvin DeVos, the Michigan entrepreneur and happy warrior who left us this week, a youthful 92, bound we expect for a just reward of eternal peace.
Paralleling the rise of the conservative movement that his philanthropy and counsel helped grow and sustain, in the early 1950s the young veteran and Calvin College graduate cofounded, with Jay Van Andel, a small vitamin company that they grew into (and which remains) the global giant, Amway (the name a mash-up of . . . American Way). Their business success was immense, and shared in profound ways: DeVos’s financial help to social-conservative organizations — such as Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council — was fundamental, and enabled them to become major centers of influence on the culture and policy. The charity bug was picked up by the DeVos children, and their collective largesse extended far beyond the Evangelical Right: From the Heritage Foundation to the Acton Institute to the Federalist Society, if there was a worthwhile conservative or education-reform group that was not touched, profoundly, by prolonged DeVos kindness and inspiration (assistance went far beyond writing checks), it is much more the exception than the rule. The result was obvious: Because of Rich DeVos and his clan, the Buckleys and Feulners and Dobsons could do what they did.
As much as he cared about things spiritual and big and national and historic — the Republican party, the Constitution Center, Mount Vernon, and even Shaquille O’Neal (DeVos was the owner of the Orlando Magic) — Rich was deeply devoted to his hometown of Grand Rapids. His family’s vision, leadership, and determination to invest in the once run-down city transformed it to a beautiful, livable, and vibrant municipality (the annual and unique ArtPrize festival, initiated by the DeVos family, is among the world’s largest art exhibitions, one that is popular in every sense of the word). It’s fair to say that Grand Rapids’s revitalization stands as a particular American success story.
So was Rich DeVos’s will to live. The ticker God gave him was big but quirky, and after two heart attacks and a stroke, it was about to give out, as were any options. Did Providence intervene for the man on his deathbed? The beneficiary believed so: A transplant gave DeVos two more decades to perform good. Feeling blessed by life’s new lease, he doubled down on expressing his gratitude through charity, with his later years seeing a major effort (among many) of making King’s College into an institution that produced educated and patriotic graduates, and earned growing renown and respect. It proved just a small part of a tremendous legacy.
Richard DeVos was a friend of our founder, a generous donor to the magazine, an original governor of the National Review Institute at its founding in 1991, and, along with his late wife Helen and their family of like-minded, committed philanthropists, the recipient of the Institute’s initial Buckley Prize for Leadership in Supporting Liberty in 2014. His son Dick is a member of the Institute’s board, and to him, and the entire DeVos family, we extend National Review’s condolences, and our pledge to be inspired by the American Way embodied by the pater familias, who was not only a great conservative but a truly great man.