George M. Yeager, a longtime benefactor of the Manhattan Institute and donor of a fellowship held with distinction by Steven Malanga, died at 83 on New Year’s Eve, after a long and painful illness, which he faced with his characteristic courage and stoic refusal to complain. A dear personal friend, he often told me that he’d had a most fortunate life and was amply grateful for his manifold blessings.
Of course much of that good luck was of his own making, the result of razor-sharp critical intelligence, wisdom, grit, unshakable probity, and driving ambition, cloaked under a remarkably modest and unassuming demeanor. Born in one of only three small houses among the mansions of posh Bronxville, New York, and intuitively grasping that American opportunity offered ambition a clear path to wealth, he set about becoming as rich and successful as his opulent neighbors soon after graduation from Dartmouth. The investment-advisory firm he ultimately ran—Yeager, Wood and Marshall—made his clients, including a stellar array of global CEOs, extremely rich. He explained his strategy in a 2002 book called Investing Your Nest Egg: essentially, he believed that America’s free-enterprise system had created a constellation of unstoppably profitable multinational corporations, and betting on the best of them was a sure thing in what his book’s subtitle called “the new golden age of capitalism.” His optimism earned him the nickname of “Little Mary Sunshine,” even as it earned him a fortune.
With that fortune—the fruit, he knew, of the unlimited opportunity American freedom offered—he was openhandedly generous, a donor not only to the Manhattan Institute but to an array of right-of-center think tanks and political candidates devoted to liberty, to free men and free markets. His belief in free markets led him to form a collection of autographs of the heroes of capitalism, which, when he was satisfied that it was complete, he gave to Concordia College in Bronxville, along with funds to build a handsome room to house it.
The liberty he loved was ordered, constitutional liberty, not license, and so great was his passion for order in every detail that he even took care that the plates on his dinner table should be laid with their patterns perfectly straight. He loved beauty no less. His magnificent estate high on a bluff in Antigua, looking straight across the Caribbean toward Africa, was breathtaking in every way, from its inventive architecture to its carefully planned gardens, works of art themselves. His New York apartment overlooking Central Park, with an important American painting collection bequeathed to a New England museum, stood just steps from Lincoln Center, so he could attend his beloved Metropolitan Opera sometimes twice a week when he was in town. With his love of order, I expected Handel and Mozart to be his favorites, but in fact he preferred the later, more overtly emotional repertoire. So there were depths of this endlessly curious, multifaceted man that even his close friends never plumbed.
He was lavish in his gifts on behalf of liberty, for which the Manhattan Institute is grateful; and I am grateful for the precious gift of his friendship.