Bernard Rapoport in 1988
The life, not the death of Bernard Rapoport, 94, changed many things about our world in Texas, our world in the United States, and well, our world. I rerun a column from 1988:
“Have you ever looked at Bernard Rapoport’s eyebrows?
They turn up at the temples, instead of down like most people’s. Star Trek’s Mr. Spock has such eyebrows.
I noticed Rapoport’s eyebrows when he was describing his Russian Marxist background last week. He was in his office at American Income Life Insurance and motioning toward a 1912 photograph of his father in Siberia. His father, David Rapoport, had been sentenced to a labor camp for distributing socialist propaganda.
That’s when I noticed the eyebrows—bushy and turned up like the stereotype of great Russian leaders.
When his father was able to immigrate to the United States as a political refugee, one of the first things he did was join the Socialist Party in 1914. Like many of today’s Russian leaders, Rapoport grew up an avid Marxist.
He began to question his father’s beliefs as a 19-year-old living in San Antonio.
“Marx never anticipated the Russian Revolution,” Rapoport said. “His theory is predicated on Adam Smith’s classical economic theory. They just came to different conclusions.”
“It’s a great theory on paper,” he said. “It just doesn’t work with people. By the time I was 190, I began to understand the fallacy of Marxism and generally, I have been a better protagonist for capitalism as a result of that.”
Actually, Rapoport is a classic capitalist. He is one of the best known entrepreneurs in insurance and throughout the years has become a major political force in his own right as a key fund raiser and activist for the national Democratic Party.
On the wall opposite the one that holds the picture of his father are dozens of photographs of famous Democrats inscribed with personal notes to Rapoport.
His fortune has been made on the union movement. American Income Life Insurance sells supplementary life insurance to labor union and credit union members. He founded the firm in 1954, took it public and sold it last week in a $221 million leveraged buyout to a Chicago investment banker. The firm presently employs about 250 people in Waco, and Rapoport claims it has never had a layoff.
When asked if his Marxist father lived long enough to see his son become a successful capitalist, Rapoport laughed. David Rapoport lived until 1966, he said. He saw it all.
“But he did say I was the only honest capitalist he ever knew.”