Tom Golisano’s Special Kindness

February 28, 2018

Hanna Atkinson 23, lives in Littleton Colorado. She has been an avid public speaker and gave the commencement speech at her high school graduation. She became a Denver 7 contributor in 2015 and was awarded the Heartland Broadcast Emmy in 2017 for her segment “More Alike Than Different.” Hanna was selected to be a Special Olympic International Health Messenger in 2017 to educate fellow athletes on becoming their best in sports and in life. She is creating a business to inspire joy, acceptance, and empowerment in memory of her brother, and she volunteers for many community nonprofits. In Hanna’s free time she likes to ski, cycle, works out, plays chess, and listens to classical music.

I’d like to tell you about Tom Golisano, a man from Rochester, New York.

I met Tom last fall at a ceremony, which honored his contributions to Special Olympics with the unveiling of a new “Champion for Global Health” exhibit.  We met at the Rochester Institute of Technology, in a building named after him. I heard he is very rich and started a very successful company.

His sister, Marie Graham, loaned him the money to start his company, Paychex, a national payroll and human resource service for businesses. She was there the night I met him. Family is a big part of the Golisano story. So is possessing the ability to run things effectively.

We never talked about his business. Instead, we talked about the things that matter to him: health, education, public service and, most of all, Special Olympics. He is passionate about those things. His life is a model of kindness.

I reached out to Tom to learn what caused this amazing man do what he did, and to understand how he incorporates kindness in his life.

To Tom, kindness means expressing concern and consideration to all people.

This is a core value that he clearly lives out. Just look at the institutions and organizations that he generously supports: Golisano Children’s Hospital in Rochester, Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital in Syracuse, Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, the Pediatric Behavioral Health and Wellness Center in Rochester, the Golisano Autism Center in Rochester, and colleges like Rochester Institute of Technology.

We talked about some of the big things he has done, but I learned that for Tom, it is also about the small things that nobody sees.

“I try to be kind in less visible ways,” Tom said. “My son, who is now an adult, has a developmental disability, and he has taught me that it’s important to treat everyone with respect and kindness.”

As a parent of a son with a disability, who enjoyed playing hockey, bowling, and track and field Special Olympics, Tom said he has been a fan of Special Olympics for many years. As part of that experience, Tom saw many athletes suffering from chronic health issues, some related to their disability, but many others related to bad nutrition, and a lack of quality information and care.

In 2010, Tom met Tim Shriver, the Chairman of Special Olympics International.  Tim asked Tom to consider helping expand the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes screening program. Tom used his business skills and wealth, and jumped right in to support the new initiative called Healthy Communities, a program designed to increase the access to health care in local communities that athletes live in today.

Tom has been an instrumental part of building Healthy Communities in the U.S. and around the world for the past six years.  He is happy to report that through timely follow-up treatment and the guidance of medical professionals, we are improving the health of to so many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. There are currently 60 Healthy Communities, and the Special Olympics has a goal to have 100 by 2020.

Tom says he is confident that they will reach the target.

It really warms Tom’s heart to visit the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes screening locations whenever he can. It’s wonderful to see many athletes receiving necessary health care from volunteer clinicians. Tom is thrilled that the Special Olympics created the Golisano Health Care Leadership Awards, which honors medical professionals around the world who provide quality healthcare to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Looking at Tom’s life, it becomes clear that kindness is a combination of the ability to see a need, the compassion to want to do something about that need, and then giving your all to address that need.

When I asked Tom why he gave so much money and time to charitable causes, he quickly replied that it was because he was able to. More importantly, he answered, it’s the right thing to do.

Tom approaches his philanthropy like he does his business. Tom asks, “Is there solid business information? Is there going to be a returnable investment? Are the outcomes going to be measured? Is this the right business to spearhead the effort?”

Tom’s efforts speak to kindness, inclusion, and friendship. I saw that firsthand when I met him.  He has a powerful story, as he finds new ideas and puts them into action. I am very glad to tell all of you about Tom’s heart and life-changing generosity.

To learn more about Special Olympics International and the generosity of Tom Golisano, visit, or check out this Special Olympics article.

Photo courtesy of The Golisano Foundation

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