Chris Gardner - A Man Who Fought Against The Odds To Become A Winner!
Jim Bates | On 02, Nov 2013
Chris Gardner’s life story is truly the definition of inspirational. So much so that it resulted in the making of the box office smash The Pursuit of Happyness. However, there are a lot of things about his life and his struggles that weren’t highlighted in the movie that remain unknown by most who haven’t read his story.
The early years –
Gardner’s story begins in Louisiana where he was born into a broken home. His father, who he would only meet once during his life, was not around. While Chris was still very young his mother and two of his uncles left Louisiana in search of a better life, so, they packed the car and headed to Canada. While on their way, the car broke down in Milwaukee. Chris and his mother would spend his childhood and teen years growing up here, moving from house to house and suffering years of abuse by his stepfather.
Chris’s mother would try to protect him from his stepfather and on one occasion, when Chris was around six years old, she even tried to burn the house down with his stepfather in it. Unfortunately this would result in his mother, Bettye Jean, being sent to prison to serve a four year sentence and Chris becoming a ward of the state and being placed into the foster care system. Unfortunately, his nightmare continued without skipping a scene. His various foster parents abused him just as his stepfather had, even sexually in one case. Gardner says he took care of that particular perpetrator a few years later using a cinder block to exact his justice (way to go Chris!).
Amazingly somehow, through nearly two decades of poverty, domestic violence, abuse, neglect and family illiteracy, Chris managed to graduate from high school. This became a turning point in his life and for a brief period moment, one of relative peace and happiness. He joined the NAVY shortly after graduating.
After being honorably discharged he relocated to the San Francisco area and pursued a career in the medical field, something he had been thinking about for years. Although away from all the people that caused him so much pain throughout his early years and being employed in field that he loved, the road ahead would prove to be wrought with challenges and adversity.
Chris’s roaring 20’s –
Within a year or so after moving to San Francisco Gardner married his first wife, Sherry Dyson. Dyson was from Virginia and was from a good home. After maintaining a long distance relationship that consisted primarily of phone calls and letters, Sherry & Chris were married near her parents’ home. She moved to California to join Chris shortly afterward.
Coming from relatively opposite backgrounds and having significantly different interests, it wasn’t long before the two started drifting apart. Sherry preferred fine dining and hanging around those with aspirations in the creative arts while Chris apparently had other things he would rather be doing. Although, while accompanying Sherry to the functions she would drag him to, he often found himself hanging out with Samuel L. Jackson, Danny Glover and her cousin Robert Alexander, the writer. This all of course before any of them were famous or even known.
As their relationship continued to deteriorate, and after an unfortunate miscarriage, Chris began to pursue his sexual interests elsewhere. It wasn’t long before he met Jackie whom eventually became the mother of his two children, Chris Jr. and Jacintha. When Jackie became pregnant with Chris Jr, Chris told Sherry he was leaving her and shortly after moved in with Jackie. Sherry moved to Oakland after the split and after nine years the two finally became legally divorced.
Over the next couple years Chris and Jackie’s relationship was strained and tested by infidelity and drug use while his struggles with financial stability continued. One day, during a fortunate period of employment when Chris was working as a medical supplies sales rep, he had a chance encounter with a gentleman that would change his life forever. Although the next couple of years would prove to be some of Chris’s most trying, the opportunity that was in the process of unfolding was the one he had been waiting for his entire life.
On this fateful day, Gardner had just left San Francisco General Hospital and was about to get in his car when Bob Bridges pulled into the parking lot in his red Ferrari. Chris motioned him over and told him he could have his spot and in return would like to ask him a couple of questions. “Sure” Bob says. “What do you do and how do you do it?” Chris asked. At the time, Mr. Bridges was among the most successful stockbrokers in the Bay area pulling in close to a million dollars a year at the time (early 80’s). After chatting a bit, Bob agreed to meet Chris a few weeks later to discuss how the stock brokerage business worked. After their meeting, Bob agreed to make some introductions for Chris. His hopes were to get Chris into a training program with one of the local brokerage firms.
Faith and perseverance –
As Chris had hoped, Bob was able to secure an interview at Dean Witter Reynolds. Perhaps what by now would be considered a surprise to no one, seeing how most of Chris’s life had gone up to this point, he managed to get himself thrown into prison before the scheduled interview. Apparently, he and Jackie had recently gotten into an argument where she ended up in a rose bush which caused visible scratches to her body. Needless to say, the police came and took him to jail. After spending the weekend locked-up and while facing the judge the following Monday, it was discovered that Chris had over $1,200 worth of unpaid parking tickets, none of which he could pay at the time. The judge sentenced him to 10 days in a Northern California prison; to be served immediately. Luckily Chris was released one day before his scheduled interview with Dean Witter.
Somehow, even though he showed up to the meeting wearing a zipped up Member’s Only jacket and paint splattered tennis shoes, they decided to give him a shot and invited him to go through their training program. Although over the next 3-4 years Chris would still find himself struggling financially, to the point of selling blood, petty hustling, sleeping in shelters, train stations and airports (and even under his desk at work at times) just to survive, he was finally on his way to his destiny.
By the time 1988 rolled around Chris Gardner’s life had taken a complete 180 and he wasn’t look back. He was 34 at the time and had just had his first million dollar year. He was in Chicago by this time and was running his own firm, Gardner Rich & Company. He had also moved Chris Jr. & Jacintha to Chicago to be with him. They had been living with their mother Jackie in California while Chris was getting himself established.
Philanthropy & Outreach –
Chris Gardner is now worth upwards of 60 million dollars and he has not forgotten those who helped in when he needed it the most. In 2007, Gardner helped fund an affordable housing development project for Glide Memorial Church and its pastor Cecil Williams. Reverend Williams gave shelter to Chris & Chris Jr. in the winter of 82-83 at the Glide Memorial Church Homeless Center.
Chris also donates to and is personally involved in a host of charities focused on a wide range of causes. For what are perhaps obvious reasons, he has close ties to the National Fatherhood Initiative, the National Education Association Foundation and the International Rescue Committee.
Some of the other causes he supports both financially and with his time are local and national outreach centers for the homeless, battered women shelters, and organizations that provide training for those who are financially illiterate.
It’s hard to say how many of us if placed in Gardner’s shoes would have been able to make through all that he did, let alone come out on top like he did, but one thing is for sure… Chris Gardner is a Winner by any definition of the word and we are proud to salute him for all that he has accomplished and for all that he has done and continues to do to help others become bigger and better in their own lives!
Thanks for reading and if you have an opportunity to give someone a hand up today go ahead and do the right thing… you’ll be glad you did and there’s no telling what kind of impact you might have on their life!