There were few things that ever surpassed Norman Brinker’s business acumen. Of those that did, perhaps the most notable was his philanthropic generosity.
The quintessential entrepreneur and founder of Brinker International, he created, acquired and grew many of today’s most beloved restaurants. His impact on the culinary world can be felt by everyone from customers to the thousands of people he inspired to believe in themselves, their ideas and the highest standards possible. Principles he himself practiced throughout his life.
He earned a place on the 1952 U.S. Olympic team and competed in the 1954 Modern Pentathlon World Championship. Barely a decade later, he had established his first restaurant, a coffee shop called Brink’s. Soon after, he introduced the world to casual dining; a concept that revolutionized the entire restaurant industry and built his chain, Steak & Ale, into a culinary empire. Always an achiever, he was also past chairman of the U.S. Polo Association, a 1998 inductee of the Polo Museum’s Hall of Fame and a recipient of the Horatio Alger Award. In short, Norman Brinker put his heart and soul into everything he did. From the restaurant industry to philanthropy, in business and in life, he was a true American success story and a hero to many.
So it is no surprise that people with whom he did business also became lifelong friends. Among them is retired Dean Foods Inc. Vice Chairman Pete Schenkel. "Norman’s commitment to his vision was an inspiration to all who knew him. He fostered people and ideas and ultimately changed the entire restaurant industry. I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again: he was a true inspiration as a businessman, a friend, and a humanitarian. There wasn’t a day that went by that he didn’t give one hundred ten percent, or that he didn’t share that big signature smile with everyone he met."
Long-time friend and neighbor Ross Perot said, "He was admired by everyone whose life he touched, not because of his success but because of how he helped others to achieve their full potential."
He brought that same enthusiasm and passion to Communities Foundation of Texas. He served on the foundation’s Advisory Council and supported a variety of charitable organizations through his fund at CFT and later through the Toni and Norman Brinker Fund.
Always a believer in giving back to the community, he instilled those same principles in all of his children. "Our dad was the most compassionate and humble person I’ve ever known," said eldest daughter Cindy Brinker Simmons. "He was totally focused on others through the way he loved, mentored and believed in them. Dad was a remarkable role model as a father and encouraged my sisters, brothers and me to maximize our gifts and talents, to work hard and to make a difference."
From building a worldwide empire to supporting the communities in which he lived and worked, Norman Brinker did everything with heart and a smile.
At his death last year, the Norman Brinker Celebration Fund was established to enable his friends, family, business associates and anyone who admired his service to humanity to make gifts in his memory. Calls came in to CFT from all around the world. Friends, acquaintances and those who were inspired by his life wanted to recognize the many contributions made by him through charitable donations of their own.
One particular individual wished to do something a little different. Instead of giving money, he wanted to establish a leadership development program for a nonprofit executive team as a salute to the leadership of Norman Brinker. CFT identified several nonprofits that Brinker had supported over the years, eventually matching the donor with Genesis Women’s Shelter.
"We are so grateful to receive such a unique donation," said Jan Langbein, executive director of the shelter. "Norman was a friend and both he and Brinker International have been generous supporters for years. It is especially fitting that CFT recognized the need to carry on his commitment to those we serve in the year in which the shelter is celebrating its 25th anniversary." Genesis Women’s Shelter works to reduce violence against women and their children in the greater Dallas area.
Of her husband, Toni Brinker said, "He was a great yet humble man who loved his family, friends, the game of polo and building restaurants. He was a true leader in his business life as well as his personal life. Norman continually pushed himself to be a better man and that determination brought out the best in everyone around him, including me."
"Communities Foundation of Texas is honored by the opportunity to help carry on his legacy," said Brent Christopher, president and CEO of CFT. "He was a visionary," added CFT Board of Trustees’ Chairman Jody Grant. "His philanthropic vision of a better world ahead for everyone changed—and continues to change—entire lives and communities."