A lady in a faded gingham dress and her husband, dressed in a
homespun threadbare suit, stepped off the train in Boston, and walked timidly
without an appointment into the Harvard University President's outer office.
    The secretary could tell in a moment that such backwoods, country hicks
had no business at Harvard and probably didn't even deserve to be in
    "We'd like to see the president," the man said softly.
    "He'll be busy all day," the secretary snapped.
    "We'll wait," the lady replied.
    For hours the secretary ignored them, hoping that the couple would finally
become discouraged and go away.  They didn't, and the secretary grew
frustrated and finally decided to disturb the president, even though it was a
chore she always regretted.
    "Maybe if you see them for a few minutes, they'll leave," she said to him.
    He sighed in exasperation and nodded. Someone of his importance
obviously didn't have the time to spend with them, and he detested gingham
dresses and homespun suits cluttering up his outer office.
    The president, stern faced and with dignity, strutted toward the couple.   
The lady told him, "We had a son who attended Harvard for one year. He
loved Harvard. He was happy here. But about a year ago, he was accidentally
killed. My husband and I would like to erect a memorial to him, somewhere on
    The president wasn't touched. He was shocked.
    "Madam," he said, gruffly, "we can't put up a statue for every person who
attended Harvard and died. If we did, this place would look like a cemetery."
    "Oh, no," the lady explained quickly. "We don't want to erect a statue. We
thought we would like to give a building to Harvard."
    The president rolled his eyes. He glanced at the gingham dress and
homespun suit, then exclaimed, "A building! Do you have any earthly idea
how much a building costs? We have over seven and a half million dollars in
the physical buildings here at Harvard."
    For a moment the lady was silent.
    The president was pleased. Maybe he could get rid of them now.
    The lady turned to her husband and said quietly, "Is that all it costs to start
a university?  Why don't we just start our own?"
    Her husband nodded. The president's face wilted in confusion and
    Mr. and Mrs. Leland Stanford got up and walked away, traveling to Palo
Alto, California where they established the university that bears their name,
Stanford University, a memorial to a son that Harvard no longer cared about.
    You can easily judge the character of others by how they treat those who
they think can do nothing for them.

Malcolm Forbes
The Gingham Dress