Richard DeVos

The Amway founder embodied the values of Grand Rapids, Mich.

 
The billionaire co-founder of direct-selling giant Amway, owner of the Orlando Magic and father-in-law of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, died on Sept. 6. He was 92.
The billionaire co-founder of direct-selling giant Amway, owner of the Orlando Magic and father-in-law of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, died on Sept. 6. He was 92. PHOTO: T.J. HAMILTON/THE GRAND RAPIDS PRESS VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS

For those who feel the American system is running off the rails, a reassuring example is Richard DeVos, the Midwest entrepreneur, businessman and political activist who died this week at 92.

DeVos got the idea of starting his own business while in high school. That isn’t unusual, but his results were. Years later, with high-school classmate Jay Van Andel, he started Amway, the door-to-door, direct-sales marketing firm that grew into one of America’s most successful private businesses, providing jobs to hundreds of thousands of independent sales representatives.

DeVos was a devout evangelical Christian and a born salesman. He believed in capitalism and he believed in individual capitalism, coining the phrase “compassionate capitalism.” Essentially, DeVos embodied the conservative, 20th-century heartland values of Grand Rapids, Mich., where he grew up.

His fortune made, he was determined to promote his beliefs and eventually found his way to the Republican Party and organizations that were coming together to promote conservative ideas. He was an early and longtime supporter of the Federalist Society, the Heritage Foundation and family-centered foundations.

We heard a lot of political criticism in recent years about “the 1%.” Richard DeVos was part of the 1% and an example of wealth used to expand the fortunes of others. A series of significant investments in Grand Rapids—a university campus, civic center and pediatric hospital—spurred that city’s revival.

His family has extended his values. His son is Dick DeVos, who is the husband of the U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Their family has dedicated years and its fortune to expanding the school-choice movement for children marooned in poorly performing inner-city schools.

There is a familiar saying about leaving the world a better place. Richard DeVos used his talent, beliefs and wealth to do exactly that.

Appeared in the September 8, 2018, print edition.

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