When David M. Rubenstein turned 54, he read that white Jewish males were likely to live to 81. “So I said, ‘I have 27 years to go,’ ” Mr. Rubenstein said. “I could be like the pharaohs and say, ‘Bury me with my money.’ Or I could start giving it away.”
Mr. Rubenstein, who turned 60 last month, has spent the last six years doing just that. Having amassed a fortune worth $2.7 billion, according to Forbes, as managing director of the Carlyle Group, the heavyweight private equity concern that he helped found in 1987, he currently serves on the boards of about 30 major institutions and says he donates generously to all of them.
Now Mr. Rubenstein has given $10 million to Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts for its $1.2 billion redevelopment project. In appreciation, the center’s new visitors’ and ticket space on Broadway — scheduled to open Nov. 24 — will be named the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center. The redesigned indoor space, between 62nd and 63rd Streets and running from Broadway to Columbus Avenue, was formerly known as the Harmony Atrium.
“You can go there and get discounted tickets, and there will be free concerts,” he said in an interview on Tuesday at Lincoln Center. “I thought it was a very good idea.”
Like movie stars, philanthropists have their golden periods, when they are in ascent and in demand. By that measure, this is Mr. Rubenstein’s moment. In the same year, 2004, he joined the boards of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington and of Lincoln Center, where he is now vice chairman. In May he was named to the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents, its Congressionally appointed governing body.
Mr. Rubenstein is also on the boards of Duke University in Durham, N.C., where he earned his bachelor’s degree; the University of Chicago, where he earned his law degree; and Johns Hopkins University, which is in his hometown, Baltimore.
He underwrites scholarships for Washington students — Mr. Rubenstein himself lives in Bethesda, Md. — and is on the board of, among others, the Council on Foreign Relations, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Asia Society, Ford’s Theater and the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution.
Somehow, Mr. Rubenstein finds time for them all. Michael M. Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center, said: “You can never send him an e-mail and not get a response within three minutes. He’s a very disciplined, organized man.”
This is not Mr. Rubenstein’s first high-profile gift. In 2007 he paid $21.3 million for a 710-year-old copy of the Magna Carta, the British declaration of human rights that served as the foundation for the American Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Mr. Rubenstein bought the last one in private hands and gave it to the National Archives in Washington.
Mr. Rubenstein also bought a copy of the Declaration of Independence, which he loaned to the National Archives, and a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, which he loaned to the Smithsonian.
And he has underwritten the restoration of two Torah scrolls, one from the Auschwitz concentration camp and another from Dachau.
Mr. Rubenstein describes himself as a workaholic, and he also sounds like something of an ascetic. He is on a plane 250 days a year. He does not drink, smoke, eat meat or “chase women” and credits his constant work pace with keeping him healthy. “I’ve never been sick a day in my life,” he said.
“Why would anybody want to drink?” he added. “I don’t want to be loose. I like where I am.”
Growing up an only child in an exclusively Jewish neighborhood of Baltimore, Mr. Rubenstein had modest beginnings. His father sorted mail for the United States Postal Service. His mother was a homemaker.
“When I was growing up, I didn’t think about money because I didn’t have any money,” he said. Mr. Rubenstein wanted to go into public service and said he went to the schools that gave him the biggest scholarships.
After law school Mr. Rubenstein joined the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, where he helped create the Municipal Assistance Corporation during New York’s fiscal crisis of the 1970s. “I liked the intersection between government and business,” he said.
Carlyle, based in Washington, manages more than $85 billion from 29 offices around the world and owns 400 companies, including Hertz and Dunkin’ Donuts. In June the company paid a $20 million settlement and agreed to change its business practices in response to an investigation by New York’s attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo, into the use of outside intermediaries, known as placement agents, often politically connected people hired to help investment firms gain access to state pension fund officials.
While Carlyle hasn’t been immune to the economic downturn, Mr. Rubenstein said, “we have weathered the storm pretty well.”
After making sure his three grown children are provided for and helping support the work of his wife, Alice Rogoff, as co-founder and chairwoman of the Alaska Native Arts Foundation, Mr. Rubenstein said, he wants to direct his money toward a range of worthy causes. “My view is, if you have money, you can spend it, you can save it, or you can give it away,” he said. “I bought all the things I need to buy.”
Over the next five years, Mr. Rubenstein said, he plans to narrow his benefactors “to ones where I feel I will make the most impact.” For now, he is trying to jam in as much he can. “I’m sprinting to the finish,” he said. “I want to work harder the next 20 years than I did the last 20. When you turn 60, you realize you’ve lived more than half your life.”
“Being happy in life is not easy,” he said. “I would give up all the money I have if I could be 50. You can always make money.”