I can’t remember quite how it came about, but a friend recently made a comment about how philanthropy should, in his opinion, be anonymous. Personally, I think it’s the end result that matters more than whether the identity of the philanthropist is or isn’t known. Whenever there’s a tsunami or an earthquake or other natural disaster somewhere in the world, one reads of this government pledging so-many million pounds/euros/dollars in aid, and that government offering double, and so on. And yet there are individuals who are so wealthy that they could easily donate ten times the amounts all these governments offer without even noticing that their bank accounts were any the lighter. If such a person did decide to save a country, but only on condition that that country be renamed after him, would that really be so terrible?
From this my mind turned to what would happen if some anonymous benefactor – wanting no memorial to himself — volunteered to found and maintain in perpetuam an old people’s home provided that it be called (and never renamed) The Harold Shipman Home for the Elderly, or, more topically, a medical facility for sick youngsters called The Jimmy Savile Children’s Hospital…?
What would happen? Would political correctness and public outrage be so great that a multi-million pound donation would be refused, or would the powers-that-be decide that the amount of good that the money could do would outweigh the negative connotations of the name? After all, to paraphrase Shakespeare’s most romantic heroine, ‘That which we call Rose West / By any other name would smell as sweet.’
If I needed an urgent operation, I really wouldn’t care if it were carried out at the Peter Sutcliffe Hospital for Women, or the surgical gowns had ‘This life-saving procedure was brought to you courtesy of [name of non-criminal benefactor]’. These things would be as nothing when compared with the otherwise life or death choice before me. Does that make me unprincipled? Perhaps. But anyone who would be prepared to die because of political correctness or an aversion to a name (hell, I’ve had treatment at the George Eliot Hospital in Nuneaton, and studying Middlemarch scarred me for life, but I didn’t complain) really does seem rather foolish to me.