Conserving the Very Best of the Planet
By Jessica Lindenfelser
Like many New Yorkers, Billy and Cheryl Geffon's lives changed forever on Sept. 11, 2001. The day began like any other as Billy, a Wall Street money manager, and wife Cheryl, a veteran Newburgh, N.Y., school teacher, left for work. They came home shaken and with a completely new outlook on their priorities.
"It was a game changer. We knew many people who died that day," Billy recalls. "We had always been savers, so we decided then and there that we would retire early. Since then, we have traveled extensively and become much more involved with philanthropy."
Billy and Cheryl are both involved with the Gary Sinise Foundation and the Harry S. Truman Library Institute. Lifelong animal lovers, they also support animal welfare and conservation organizations. Raised by an uncle in a two-bedroom apartment, Billy was not allowed to have any animals as a child.
"Many years later, when I was getting married, I again lived with my uncle in that apartment. He loves to tell the story that we evicted him a few weeks after the wedding so we could get a puppy."
Since then, Billy and Cheryl—who have been married 45 years—have never been without at least one pet.
Despite neither of them ever having visited Africa, the Geffons are supporters of the African Wildlife Foundation. Billy fondly recalls visiting the elephants at the Bronx Zoo as a child and observing the gorillas with their amazingly human-like behavior. Both Billy and Cheryl are horrified at the thought of elephants and rhinos being killed by poachers for the purposes of showing off one's wealth (in the case of elephant ivory) or because of the misconception that rhino horn has medicinal or aphrodisiac qualities. They wanted to get involved with an organization that is working to protect and conserve large wildlife species and recently committed a percentage of their estate to AWF through their living trust.
"We have done well in life through a combination of hard work, career guidance and plain dumb luck," Billy says. "We decided that we want to give away 90 percent of our assets to the foundations and organizations that are inspiring others and conserving the best of the planet. We had always intended to leave our assets to charity, but 9/11 forced us to be more focused on where the funds would go."
"We never had children, and I know this is a consideration for parents when planning their estates, as most want to pass their assets to children and grandchildren. But I would encourage anyone to at least consider leaving a small amount or percentage of their assets to worthwhile organizations. Support what you love in your life and make sure it prospers when you're gone. I have found that the more you give, the more you receive back."