A lucky stock tip and the making of a philanthropist

Victoria came to know Andrew Beckerman in 2006, after he moved here from New Mexico and started speaking out about being HIV positive.

He followed that by raising and donating hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities that support marginalized people.

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Today, Beckerman is being honoured in a virtual ceremony, along with two other Islanders, with B.C.’s Medal of Good Citizenship, which recognizes individuals whose dedication and service to their community has made an outstanding impact.

Beckerman is a philanthropist who is passionate about reducing income inequality and advocating for human rights. He has contributed about $500,000 to the Victoria Cool Aid Society, which works to end homelessness by providing affordable housing, shelter spaces and health services.

His reason for giving is simple: “I live better if everyone lives better.”

Beckerman’s first volunteer role in Victoria was with AIDS Vancouver Island, where he greeted people and handed out harm-reduction supplies at the reception desk.

He agreed to speak publicly about his HIV-positive status and became a public face at a time when stigma around the virus was strong.

Many were scared of speaking out, but the stigma didn’t deter Beckerman. “I really didn’t care because I’ve managed to survive being HIV positive, but that wasn’t true for a lot of our very vulnerable clients.”

It was an experience that was “transformational” for Beckerman and encouraged him to start donating significant sums of money.

Beckerman said he has amassed his wealth through good luck and favours, and feels like he’s paying back those favours by giving to those in need.

When he bought his first computer — a Macintosh — around 1990, the salesperson offered to arrange for a broker selling Apple shares to be present when he returned in a couple of weeks to make a final payment. Beckerman said he wasn’t into the stock market at the time, but he invested $3,000 to buy 100 shares.

“I had a lot of Apple computer shares not because I’ve studied the stock market, but because a computer salesperson connected me with a stockbroker and I bought them not knowing,” he said.

He’s similarly grateful for an unlikely loan that bought him his first house as a graduate student washing dishes three nights a week. It was the start of a real estate boom in California, where he lived at the time. Beckerman has since made money by building and selling houses.

Robert McMinn, the first mayor of the District of Highlands, and Vancouver Island University professor Imogene Lim are also among the 14 recipients of this year’s Medal of Good Citizenship. McMinn moved to the Highlands in 1953, and his love for the area spurred him to work to protect it as green space. He founded a community association of like-minded residents and spearheaded a land-use plan for the area and a study that brought the District of Highlands into being in 1993.

The descendant of a Chinese head-tax payer, Lim is an educator and community activist whose advocacy focuses on Chinese Canadian history. In Nanaimo, she worked with other community members to create one of the city’s first heritage plaques, which reflected the voices of some of the earliest Chinese Canadians.

To date, 90 people and two communities in B.C. have received the medal. “The latest recipients of the Medal of Good Citizenship make our province a better place through their contributions and provide an example we can all aspire to meet in our communities,” Premier John Horgan said.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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