Opinion: Some there are who want no memorials

Peter Stanford

We're keen on memorials in the west - gravestones, prizes, lectures, buildings, all designed to perpetuate the memory of individuals. In developing countries, they don't share our enthusiasm, as I found last year when visiting Ethiopia. Or maybe they just don't have the time to do it. When I asked why there was nothing left to mark the sites of the camps where a million Ethiopians died in the famine of 1984, my guides explained that when you are struggling to avoid starvation again, you don't have time to look back.

In such places, necessity militates against memorials. Here we have more opportunity to indulge, but those who use their fortunes to establish charitable funds that allow their names to live on after their deaths might do well to reflect the underlying wisdom of the flowers-for-the-living approach of Africa. Some seem to be doing just that already. David Sainsbury, the supermarket tycoon turned politician, has become the latest of a small but growing number of philanthropists to decide he wants any good works carried out by his foundation to be done during his lifetime. By the time he dies, Lord Sainsbury plans that all of his foundation's £1bn-plus will have been spent.

So, although no institutional memorial will remain after he's gone, plenty of lives should have been changed for the better. It's a bold gesture that is to be applauded. The world is awash with deserving recipients who need help right now. For those with the resources to do that, there's no rational reason to cling on to those millions until you die and then use them to immortalise your name.

To have money in a capitalist world is undoubtedly a blessing, but it can also be a curse. Even the most enlightened wealthy individuals involved with charities can have their expectations corrupted. I once had a colleague who gave and gave of his energy and personal financial resources to build an outstanding charity. Along the way he refused every form of recognition because that was not the point. Then age weakened his resolve and, one day, he shocked us all by getting into an almighty huff because he hadn't been thanked at a reception. He walked out on us, never to return.

It was a small personal tragedy that I will never forget - that one so high-minded could succumb to the need for recognition, the desire for a memorial. Perhaps it is a part of the human make-up that we all need to recognise and fight against.

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