Her instant reply was, “Where do you think I learned that, Dad?

Once, in a particularly fiery argument between Joe and his daughter Linda, an exasperated Joe asked Linda what made her so opinionated. ” A few days later, Linda gave her father another answer. ” Joe hung it on the kitchen wall.

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She presented him with a plaque imprinted with a quote from Jonathan Swift: “We love each other because our ailments are the same

In 1989, Joe and his wife, Violet (Vi), set up the Jacobs Family Foundation in San Diego, California, and invited their daughters, and later their two sons-in-law, to serve on the board. Until the family discovered a common interest, funding microenterprises, their arguments over the foundation’s mission were long and furious. But they all agreed that they wanted their foundation to break new ground in philanthropy; and once again, the norms of the family culture prevailed. Joe had taken risks in building his business and wanted the foundation to do the same in philanthropy. For years, he kept on his desk a cartoon of Babe Ruth at bat; its caption read “Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times.” As Joe says, “Defeat can’t be avoided. It’s part of daring. That’s why I tell my family, listen kids, we may get knocked on our behinds fighting the system, but we’re going to do it.”

The Jacobs Family Foundation has had many successes as well as its share of disappointments. In sticking its neck out, it has made mistakes and misjudged the capacity of certain individuals for leadership. But what some families might regard as failures, the Jacobs see as valuable lessons. Undaunted, they are confident they are on the right track.


All families have traditions that are passed down from one generation to the next. In the past, when the extended family all lived in one place, traditions were built into the routines of daily life and kept alive by family elders. As family branches diverged and the elders died, the traditions often died with them.

With family members scattered around the country, families now have to work hard to create and maintain their traditions. The O’Neill family, for example, holds reunions every three years for the entire clan-some 235 relatives who live in the United States. For one family branch of the clan whose members want to meet more regularly, there is also an annual weekend gathering every summer, which nearly half the family attends. Typically, one person in the family takes the initiative in organizing family events; in the O’Neill family, that person is often Bill O’Neill. To keep track of this large family, he prints and distributes a clan telephone directory, which he updates annually.

Several trustees interviewed for this guide mentioned traditional summer gathering places where the family comes together for fun and relaxation, usually at the summer home of the grandparents or at a family camp. It was through childhood experiences of those places, some say, that they first developed the sense of belonging to something larger than their immediate family.

For 200 years, for example, the Pardoe family has maintained a family farm in New Hampshire. Purchased in 1796, the farm had been continually occupied by family members until the death of the family matriarch, Helen Pardoe, in 1988. Now the ownership and management of the farm have passed to the younger generation. Although younger family members live on both coasts, they still regard the farm as their symbolic family home.

“My grandmother was a large presence in the family,” says Charles Pardoe II, “and we were all close to her. The farm symbolizes the values my grandmother lived by and passed on to us about the importance of a tight-knit family, hard work and positive attitudes.”