Like many people recently, I’ve spent some time thinking about what’s important as we grope our way through this unnerving new existence. I’ve wondered what lessons we might draw from history, and what we could learn from the experiences of others that came before us. I have a few thoughts I’d like to share. I trust you’ll forgive me that they’re not primarily centered around financial wealth.
First, I’d like to say a sincere “Thank you” to all our clients and friends who’ve made such a special point to wish us well, to send us special acknowledgements of appreciation, or to ask us how we’re doing in this environment. The genuine concern you have shown for our well-being is humbling.
Even amid the challenges and heightened anxiety every single one of you is wrestling with, and despite the heavy responsibility we ourselves are feeling in this uncertain and unknowable world, it’s impossible not to feel a deep sense of gratitude to be surrounded by such a warm and caring group of human beings. We couldn’t be more fortunate than to have clients like you. I mean that. Thank you.
Second, I hope to dispel a misperception we’ve heard in some of those conversations. Namely, that we must be flooded with such a high volume of worried calls from other people that we don’t have the time to have an in-depth conversation with you. I assure you this is not the case. We are available, and we want to speak to every single client and friend who would like an ear or a sounding board.
Between six advisors and six professional administrative staff, we currently serve 338 households. Like many of you, we’re certainly having to develop new skills, like how to interact remotely for a period. However, we have purposefully kept our client relationships to a manageable group of fiscally responsible people whom we like, trust and respect precisely so we would never get overwhelmed- especially during challenging times. We are not overburdened. We’re here to help you think, plan, adapt and respond, so please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Now to some personal thoughts. I have a portrait that hangs in my living room (see above image). It was painted in 1919. It came into my care about 20 years ago, after my great uncle died, and the house that he and my great aunt had lived in for many decades was sold so she could move to Austin to be close to her family.
In it, two beautiful young sisters sit close together, their long curly hair tumbling down their shoulders, reflecting the warm light. They gaze quite somberly at the viewer, creating an interesting visual juxtaposition as they run their fingers absentmindedly through the fluffy orange fur of the sleeping tabby cat that’s stretched out lazily in the lap-folds of the older sister’s dress.
The younger girl, my grandmother at about the age of 9, is on the left, seated perhaps on a very low stool. Her sister Helen, who was probably 12 at the time, sits cross-legged on the floor, slightly below and to the right, cradling the snoozing cat in her lap. Neither sister smiles. They both look somewhat guarded, but Helen bears a particularly haunting, pained expression on her pale, innocent face.
Frequently, friends who come to our home comment on how beautiful this painting is. The artist clearly possessed great talent and a discerning eye, and I have never become bored of searching for new, unnoticed details she included. It is indeed a family treasure.
But it’s what’s not included that’s also significant. It’s a profound absence that provokes the real questions, especially now. Missing from this treasured painting is their beloved older brother, Jimmy, their parent’s first-born and only son, who died at the age of 14, during the very early stages of the flu pandemic that had swept tragically through their world just a handful of months earlier.
As I think about the tragic loss, the disrupted lives, and the fear, uncertainty and loneliness so many people are dealing with now, and as I contemplate the commonality that surely existed in that time, I struggle with the range of emotions that must have compelled my great grandparents to have the portrait made.
Obviously, I never knew Jimmy. I wasn’t born until 44 years after his death, and it was probably another 10 years after that before I could even begin to comprehend the notion of his loss. I have no memory of my great grandparents either. But I knew my grandmother and my great aunt for many years, well into my adulthood. Jimmy was a regular presence for all that time – in impromptu reminiscences, in family stories, and in traditions and keepsakes. They had other sketches and a few photographs of him, and my youngest brother James bears his name.
What I can tell you is this: my grandmother and my great aunt Helen were both life-long investors – in the truest sense. Despite the fear they surely confronted at the tragic loss of their brother, World War I that preceded it, the Great Depression and World War II that followed it, and all the other myriad trials and tribulations that marked their adult lives until their own deaths in 1989 and 2000, they deliberately built wealth in all its forms. They lived below their means and invested patiently in financial assets, to be sure. But they also invested steadfastly in the well-being of their families, their friends, and their communities. They very purposefully built legacies – financial and otherwise – to have impact well beyond their lifetimes. They were deliberate stewards, because they knew others would follow. It’s a value they instilled in others, and one we should all share.
None of us is guaranteed anything in the present environment. In the long run, however, the majority will survive this epidemic. Remember that. Most will come through the current darkness and emerge on the other side. We don’t know now who will be among that group, and none of us individually should feel any sense of certainty. But a large majority of humanity will eventually come out of this. We will come back together, because that’s what human beings do – we are communal. We’ll congregate in families, in friend groups, in religious communities, sporting events and workplaces. Companies of people will reunite, and they’ll strive again to do, to be and to create. It’s that long term perspective that keeps calling us to invest, because even if we, individually, don’t see that, someone we care about will.
Here is one final thought to share: my parents once expressed to my great aunt Helen how lucky they felt to have a close-knit family and so many trusted relationships. She assertively replied: “It’s not luck. It’s recognizing wealth when you have it, and never letting go.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Thank you, again, for your confidence and trust.
Thomas G. Twombly