October 19, 2011

Doug Clark: Holmes a man of fine mettle

By The Spokesman-Review
 

When Gordon Holmes takes the podium Thursday night in the Davenport Hotel’s swank Isabella Ballroom, it’s a given the subject of precious metals will come up.

Holmes, after all, is the featured banquet speaker for the annual Silver Summit. This year’s two-day confab will unite 700 investors, explorers, vendors, silver producers and metals aficionados.

But here’s the thing about Holmes.

While the 60-year-old has been dubbed “an evangelist” for the silver-and-gold crowd, his real zeal centers on one of the most compelling charities I’ve ever encountered.

“Wines for Wheelchairs,” Holmes calls it.

Here’s how it works: Buy a bottle of wine from his premium Lookout Ridge Winery (www.lookoutridge.com), and Holmes will donate a wheelchair to someone in desperate need of mobility.

Some 7,000 wheelchairs have so far been distributed in some of the world’s most impoverished locations. Holmes’ visit to Spokane will keep that impressive number growing, thanks to a donation from Handover Ventures, which will ensure that 60 wheelchairs will be given away.

“When you figure out that can change a person’s life – it’s very powerful,” Holmes told me during a phone interview last week.

I didn’t know what to expect when I called him.

This is a guy who bought his first stock at age 13. It tripled soon afterward.

He’s a former Wall Street publisher turned vintner who built a winery 1,800 feet atop the Mayacamas Mountains that overlook California’s grape-rich Sonoma and Napa valleys.

Holmes’ list of friends include former Seattle Seahawks owner Ken Behring and the late Steve Jobs.

Holmes is a high roller, to be perfectly blunt.

Yet when I dialed the number given me, Holmes picked up and immediately started chatting like we’d known each other for years.

No secretary running interference.

No press paranoia so common to the fat cat set.

I liked Holmes immediately. The more we yakked the more he struck me as someone who had realized that accumulating wealth doesn’t mean squat if you can’t parlay it into something meaningful.

That insight came at a price, however.

In 1998, Holmes’ wife Kari was diagnosed with an aggressive form of multiple sclerosis that robbed her ability to walk. Holmes bought Kari a wheelchair and soon marveled at the confidence it gave her.

As corny as it sounds, the light bulb clicked on with some help from Behring, the man behind the Wheelchair Foundation.

“The first time we distributed wheelchairs, in Mexico, I saw how one could instantly change someone’s life,” Holmes told a Bloomberg reporter in 2008.

“I picked up a little boy whose dad was wheeling him in a wheelbarrow and sat him in a wheelchair. The look on his face that he could get around by himself – wow.”

Do one good deed and two good deeds will come back to you. That’s the essence of the simple philosophy that Holmes plans to impart at tonight’s banquet.

How will an audience of capitalists respond?

“They’ll be drinking my wine,” said Holmes with a laugh.

Yeah, that’ll definitely help. The Lookout Ridge label has an excellent reputation for producing highly prized, albeit pricey, vino.

But “life can be a balance,” added Holmes, who enjoys driving a Porsche Turbo. “All it takes is a simple act of kindness.”

If you haven’t wandered through a Silver Summit, it’s definitely a fascinating experience. True, a $40 registration fee (or an ounce of silver) is required. But for that you are exposed to vendors, metals experts, seminars and lectures that could help you build your own portly portfolio.

I expect this summit edition to be jumping, thanks to the wild ride silver and gold have been on of late.

Many financiers still pooh-pooh precious metals as an investment strategy. But consider this: an ounce of silver sells for roughly 10 times what it sold for 10 years ago.

There are stock market investors who would no doubt kill for that sort of appreciation.

How the Silver Summit came about is a story all its own. It is the creation of Dave Bond, my old pal, and Shauna Hillman.

As Bond tells it, the idea “was concocted one very late evening on the back of a cocktail napkin.”

The first Silver Summit convened in 2003 at the Coeur d’Alene Inn. Despite Bond’s jitters, six companies and 50 “silver bugs,” as they are called, attended.

“I was so afraid it would bomb that I refused to promote it to any respectable friends in the news biz for fear of being ridiculed when nobody showed up,” he said.

But “when folks from South America and Europe drifted in for that first one, I started to take it seriously.”


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