Tom Shakely


Earlier this year I wrote about keeping a diary. I think there’s value there—not only for personal reasons, but for family reasons. For public figures, there’s even more value.

James Carden’s review of George Kennan’s diaries got me thinking about the value of private journals in the era of ubiquitous social media. Kennan, the architect of the U.S. policy of Soviet containment, was an enormous public figure:

What strikes the reader of these diaries, besides the sheer abundance of literary talent on display, is Kennan’s capacity, in the space of a single entry, for deep wisdom and even deeper melancholy. This duality runs like a thread through these pages, and a little of the latter goes a long way. Take one example from April 1951: “It would be a miracle if, with some combination of personal and public problems, anything remained for me personally in life … this will be a time for leadership or for martyrdom…

Kennan’s private reflections animate the public space. How many families would benefit from their parents keeping even semi-regular diaries?

How many otherwise routine, even stiff mental pictures we keep of our closest friends or family members would be re-written if we could catch a glimpse of them as more bohemian diarists? If only I could read about the lives of my ancestors.

Do not disturb

“Do Not Disturb” is one of my favorite features ever introduced to the iPhone. It’s great because it limits the ability for our most used daily device to interrupt us at times when we shouldn’t really be interrupted. 

I have mine set so that any calls, texts, etc. received between 11pm and 6am are muted. I’ll probably extend those hours as I get older.

A feature I’d like to see developed in future iOS releases? Expand Do Not Disturb so it can be enabled per app. I’d really like to mute apps like Slack or Inbox after 5pm. And I’d like for apps like YouTube or Twitter to be muted most of the day, except for times when I can consume the content they’re pushing to me.

Email is probably the biggest offender, though. There’s no reason it needs to feel urgent. It’s always coming in. I don’t usually need a notice about what’s incoming. Let me mute the app.

Rising fortunes

I joined the Catholic Philopatrian Literary Institute a few years ago. Shortly after I joined, I was talking one night with Clive, the Philopatrian’s old house manager. He mentioned that the vacant properties nearby—a parking lot behind the Philopatrian and another just down the block—had nearly transformed into a new tower. But the 2008 financial crisis hit, and those plans had been shelved. Still, he guessed something would be built sooner rather than later.

That conversation came back to me when I saw news that the plans for 1911 Walnut Street had been unveiled. You can see the Philopatrian in the Google Streetview photo above (with the vacant lot/fencing somewhat obscured by the trees), and then the new aerial angle:


It’ll be a major development for Center City and the Rittenhouse area, and it’s transform the block that the Philopatrian inhabits at 1923 Walnut. This is what the street is expected to look like:


Compared to what it looks like now, with chain-link fencing and Indego bike station:


It’s great to see such a landmark tower coming to this lot. It should be a rising tide that lifts the ship that is the Philopatrian, bringing more people to that block, and providing a good retreat for the many weddings and events that are hosted there.

I hope as property values rise in the years to come, the board at the Philopatrian values its history and future enough to conserve the mansion.


The land was ours before we were the land’s.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.

The Gift Outright
—Robert Frost

Family philanthropy trends

I wrote yesteday about developing a charitable mission within your family. Being that it’s nearly Thanksgiving, I also want to highlight the National Center for Family Philanthropy, and specifically their feature on some of the “biggest trends” in this area:

We’ve seen an influx of new organizations, new ideas, and new approaches that are ushering the practice of family philanthropy into a new era.

With the release of the National Center of Family Philanthropy’s 2015 Trends Study, we now have data to support these observations.

This new benchmark study — conducted with the Urban Institute — marks the first nationally representative survey of family foundations in the United States. It creates a profile of family foundations documenting the current number, size, age, assets, and giving levels of family foundations across the nation, and looks at a variety of unique aspects of family foundation governance and management practices, including the engagement of the next generation and the participation of the founding donor.

What they delve into is family philanthropy that’s occuring in the millions of dollars. But again, there’s no reason that regular donors and families shouldn’t think in the same, intentional way in their own giving.

A family charitable mission

Every generation faces a different world, but a lot of challenges are common across time. I’m a fan of community foundations like the New York Community Trust because they allow donors to try to address timeless challenges. It’s more fun to solve problems for a century or longer than a decade or so. This struck me when reading the NY Community Trust’s Grant Newsletter last year:

Ninety years ago, when the first funds were established in The New York Community Trust, “Rhapsody in Blue” premiered in the City with George Gershwin at the piano. The Thanksgiving Day Parade marched to Macy’s for the first time. John Francis Hylan was mayor, Calvin Coolidge sat in the White House, and newspapers reported the discovery of King Tut’s tomb.

Much has changed since 1924, but—remarkably—most of The Trust’s funds created that year continue to make New York a better place.

One of those funds honors financier and philanthropist Jacob Schiff, who left Germany in 1873 to seek his fortune in New York. He found it as a Wall Street investment banker with numerous railroad stock holdings before he died in 1920.

His daughter, Frieda Schiff Warburg, created a permanent fund in his honor to provide services for the poor, a cause he held dear. Originally $500,000, it’s now worth more than $2.6 million. In just the past two decades, we’ve used the Jacob H. Schiff Memorial Fund to give more than $2 million to nonprofits finding solutions for New Yorkers in need…

These sorts of funds can be started with $5,000 or less and the impact of these funds can be perpetual. Have a family, cultivate a family mission or areas of interest, and get to work. Don’t privatize it. Share it.

Start now, and the impact will grow in time.

Stand Up For Life

I spent last night in Center City, Philadelphia with more than 1,000 friends to celebrate another year in working to build a Culture of Life. This was my fourth time attending the Stand Up For Life celebration, and its 34th anniversary.

The short film above was shown during dinner and does a pretty good job capturing the work of the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia, which hosts Stand Up For Life.

I think the most important realization of the Pro-Life Union and groups like it whose mission concerns the Culture of Life is the realization that politics alone is not the solution to the Culture of Death that plagues this country. A focus on service to others can do more to meaningfully change hearts, and ultimately change our politics.

Service to people like Kendra—who was told by Planned Parenthood that she had a choice, when in fact they were really offering her one choice; which is no choice—are an example of that approach.

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