Before John Grisham was a bestselling author, he was working 60 to 70 hours a week at a small-town Mississippi law practice. Grisham once overheard the harrowing testimony of a 12-year-old rape victim and was inspired to write a novel exploring what would have happened if the girl’s father had murdered her assailants. That novel became A Time to Kill, and since then, Grisham has written such thrillers as The Pelican Brief, and The Firm, with a number of his works being turned into movies as well.
Many of Grishman's novels have populist themes, hinting at the author's liberal worldview. All have sold well. Grisham's net worth has been estimated at upwards of $200 million and Grisham and his wife Renee have a rather long history of giving money away.
The Grishams channel much of their philanthropy through the Oakwood Foundation Charitable Trust, which has given away between $2 and $4 million annually in recent years. The couple's philanthropy mainly focuses on Mississippi and Virginia, two states where they have residences. But money goes further away, too. Here are a few things to know about Grisham philanthropy.
1. Grisham Is Into Justice
Even after Grisham made it big as a writer, he returned to the courtroom to honor a commitment made prior to retiring from law—representing the family of a railroad brakeman killed when he was pinned between two cars. On the philanthropic side, Grisham doesn't seem to have forgotten his roots, either. He sits on the board of directors of the Innocence Project, which campaigns to free unjustly convicted people. In 2013, the Innocence Project received $100,000 from Grisham. Another $250,000, meanwhile, went to the Legal Aid and Justice Center in Virginia in 2013. Assorted sums have also gone to the Southern Environmental Law Center.
2. Grisham's Alma Maters Have Been Big Winners
Grisham has given his undergraduate alma mater Mississippi State University at least $1 million annually between 2007 and 2013 alone. Grisham's law school alma mater, the University of Mississippi, is home to the Grisham Writers in Residence. Money has also recently gone to the African-American Teaching Fellowship, and UNC Chapel Hill ($1 million in 2013).
3. Human Services Is Also An Interest
Grisham has also showed willingness to support disaster relief efforts and local building projects. Grisham and Renee set up the Rebuild the Coast Fund, which raised $8.8 million dollars for Gulf Coast relief in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The Grishams donated $5 million toward that effort.
As well, Grisham has supported United Way, Charlottesville Free Clinic, and Planned Parenthood. And Grisham gave around $2.4 million to the Building Goodness Foundation in 2012 and $175,000 to the outfit in 2013. The Building Goodness Foundation is a nonprofit that "connects skilled volunteers from the design and construction industries with vulnerable communities at home and abroad." Recent projects have included a renovation project at a Baptist church in Virginia, and support for a Red Cross Clinic in El Salvador.
3. Grisham Has Been A Longtime Supporter of the Church
Grisham is Christian, and a number of churches, Baptist churches specifically, have seen sums from him. These include Cove Presbyterian Church, Crozet Baptist Church, and University Baptist Church. It's worth noting though, that Grisham has also said that he tends to keep his religions convictions to himself and dislikes those who use their religion for "political gain."
4. There's An International Perspective to Grisham's Philanthropy As Well
While Grisham and Renee tend to keep their eyes trained on Mississippi and Virginia, an element of their philanthropy looks at a broader perspective, such as responding to Hurricane Katrina, but also trying to make an impact internationally. Besides supporting the Building Goodness Foundation, which has projects abroad, the Grishams have also steadily supported the Ixtatan Foundation, which describes itself as aiming to "enhance the socio-economic development of San Mateo Ixtatán, Guatemala, by creating greater access to education and community development programs, that promote creativity, diversity of thought and resource sharing while honoring local culture."
The couple has also recently supported Vital Voices Partnerships, which "identifies, trains and empowers emerging women leaders and social entrepreneurs around the globe." The Grishams have given to Doctors Without Borders, too.
By the way, Grisham served as a Democrat in the Mississippi House of Representatives during the 1980s, so this is a guy with plenty of interests and perspectives.
Oh, and there is at least one passion that Grisham didn't get to carry out: being a professional baseball player. Instead, he's served as a local little league commissioner and built six ballfields on his property that have hosted hundreds of kids and dozens of teams.
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