“Dinner Table Lessons” by Michael Bloomberg

The Southampton resident and former three-term mayor of New York City can add environmentalist to his long list of altruistic endeavors. He reflects on the examples set by his parents in this essay, which appears in Mentoring USA founder Matilda Cuomo’s book, The Person Who Changed My Life.
Recycled Denim American Flag by Montauk artist Amanda Beckmann, artbya.com

Some people meet their mentors in a classroom. Others, on a playing field or in the office. I met mine at the dinner table, every night, growing up in Medford, Massachusetts. I was lucky to come from a loving, middle-class family, and while I remember teachers and Boy Scout leaders and employers who challenged and inspired me, my greatest mentors—the people who taught me the values that have guided me all through my life—were Charlotte and William Bloomberg, my mother and father.

When I was growing up, dinner was a very important part of the day. My mother cooked, while my sister, Marjorie, and I set the table. We were expected to pitch in, and we did. After my father got home from his job as a bookkeeper at a local dairy, we would sit down for a family meal—and my mother would always use the good china. To her, there was nobody more important than family—so why save the best for someone else? That was one life lesson learned at the dinner table.

Another was watching my father sit there one evening and write a check to the NAACP. My father believed in hard work and took great pride in his job. But he felt it was extremely important to give back to others. When I asked him why he wrote the check, he told me, “Because discrimination against anyone is a threat to all of us.” My parents knew about discrimination. They were not able to directly purchase the house that I grew up in because Jews were not welcome buyers. The property was sold first to my parents’ lawyer, who then turned around and sold it to them. They never talked about the episode, probably to protect us from feeling hurt and confused and resentful. But also because, I suspect, both of them approached life by looking forward, not backward. And by focusing on the good, rather than dwelling on the bad.

That’s what my mother did when my father died, rather suddenly, while I was in college. Though she was devastated (as were we all), she was a pillar of strength, and she went back to work to help support herself and us. No surprise. This was the woman who had graduated from New York University in 1929, a time when very few women—especially those who were not wealthy—even considered attending college. My mother was always independent and strong-willed.

I owe my best qualities to my parents: a strong will and an independent streak from my mother; and a passion for hard work from my father. But those are only the most outward reflections of my parents that I carry with me every day. Their belief in the importance of family, giving back, treating everyone equally, and looking forward are values that have shaped every major decision I’ve made in my life, and they have given me greater rewards than I ever could have imagined.