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'Purity of Intention' subject of van Otterloo Celebration speech

'Purity of Intention' subject of van Otterloo Celebration speech
Friday, May 12, 2017

On May 4, 2017, ECCF held its 4th annual Celebration of Giving at the DoubleTree in Danvers, where over 400 guests honored several local philanthropists and nonprfoit organizations, including the van Otterloo family of Marblehead, who were given the George Peabody Award for outstanding philanthropy in the county. Following is the full text of the speech made by Sander van Otterloo, who accepted the award for the family. 

Left: Sander and Erin van Otterloo, Rose-Marie and Eyk van Otterloo and Ana Colmenero and Hoyt van Otterloo were given the George Peabody Award at ECCF's 2017 Celebration of Giving. PHOTO BY KEVIN HARKINS/HARKINS PHOTOGRAPHY



Good morning and thank you.  With Mother’s Day on the horizon, my brief words have a motherly theme, and, since I am an English teacher, I am going to do what English teachers do, so please allow me to share with you a poem called “The Lanyard,” by former Poet Laureate Billy Collins.


The Lanyard

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room
bouncing from typewriter to piano
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the 'L' section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word, Lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past.
A past where I sat at a workbench
at a camp by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips into a lanyard.
A gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard.
Or wear one, if that's what you did with them.
But that did not keep me from crossing strand over strand
again and again until I had made a boxy, red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold facecloths on my forehead
then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim and I in turn presented her with a lanyard.
'Here are thousands of meals' she said,
'and here is clothing and a good education.'
'And here is your lanyard,' I replied,
'which I made with a little help from a counselor.'
'Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth and two clear eyes to read the world,' she whispered.
'And here,' I said, 'is the lanyard I made at camp.'
'And here,' I wish to say to her now,
'is a smaller gift. Not the archaic truth,
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took the two-toned lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless worthless thing I wove out of boredom
would be enough to make us even.'


I think there is a bit of young Billy Collins in many of us. I know that I can never repay my mother with a lanyard or a Hallmark card, but when she asked if I would be willing to accept this award today on behalf of the family, well what do you say to the woman who changed your diaper thousands of times?


In truth, I am very honored to represent my family.


I remember ripping dandelions and buttercups out of the yard to make a mangled bouquet for my mother and having the same feeling that this somehow made us even.  Oddly enough, I still feel the same way about that bouquet, but how could that be?  Because I know when I handed my mom that bouquet and when Billy Collins handed his mom that lanyard, there was a purity of intention, and that is how I think the poem relates to this moment.


When giving back to a community, or a school, or an organization, we are often reminded that it is not how much you give but the fact that you gave.  I would add that it feels a lot better to give when there is a purity of intent.  Since the theme for this year’s breakfast is “Inspiring philanthropy for generations,” I suggest that the best thing we can teach our sons and daughters is that purity of intention.  For instance, if my daughters donate toys to an organization and do so kicking and screaming, what have they gained from the experience?  If, however, they are given the opportunity to see, in action, the organization that will benefit from their act of giving, maybe my daughters will begin to feel that purity of intent.


In many senses, our community is a lot like the mother in the Billy Collins poem.  How can the van Otterloo family possibly repay the community that has nurtured and shaped us and continues to nurture our children?  My parents arrived in this community with very little.  They are fortunate now to be able to give back to the community via the van Otterloo Family Foundation, but we as a family are well aware that the money will not prevent hunger, educate children, repair a broken home, or prevent mental illness or drug addiction.  If, however, we can help a few kids or a few families, or organizations doing vital work for our community’s underserved populations, and if we can do it with a purity of intention, then perhaps we have given our version of a lanyard or dandelion bouquet to a community that, just like a good mother, will continue to give back to us in myriad ways.  I know I speak for my parents, Eijk and Rose-Marie, My brother Hoyt, my sister-in law, Ana, and my wife Erin when I say that we are all very flattered to receive this year’s George Peabody Award from The Essex County Community Foundation.


My mom always says, “It is a lot more fun to give with a warm hand.”  I would only add that if you give with a warm hand, it offers you an opportunity to shake hands with the true champions of our community, the ones who volunteer or who work tirelessly for the organizations that my family is so humbled to support.


Thank you so very much on behalf of the van Otterloo family.

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