Stockbroker Turned Philanthropist: Chris Gardner’s Pursuit of Happiness

Written by Reve Fisher

By Ishan Sen

An entrepreneur, stockbroker, motivational speaker, and philanthropist, Christopher Paul Gardner is best known for his biopic, The Pursuit of Happyness, a 2006 movie starring Will Smith as the protagonist. Born on February 9, 1954, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Gardner’s childhood memories mostly involved living in fear of his abusive stepfather, Freddie Triplett.

Growing up in foster homes, Gardner enlisted in the Navy after high school and afterwards moved to San Francisco, California, to work as a medical research associate and scientific medical supply distributor. He co-authored several articles with cardiac surgeon, Dr. Robert Ellis, which were published in medical journals.

He secured nuptial ties with Sherry Dyson in 1977, but a strained relationship followed that ultimately culminated into Gardner leaving her to move in with his girlfriend Jackie, then pregnant with his child. It wasn’t until 1989 that Sherry and he were legally divorced. In 1981, Jackie gave birth to the couple’s son, Christopher Gardner Jr., 19 months after which she left him and their son.

In 1982, Gardner was recruited in the Dean Witter Reynolds training program for future stockbrokers. However, the meager trainee salary was not adequate to sustain their home. Consequently, Gardner and his son were soon left homeless. His determination and perseverance at the company paid off when he was offered a job at Bear Stearns and Co. in San Francisco.

With the issue of homelessness finally solved, Gardner gradually worked his way up at Bear Stearns and Company and became the top earner within four years. In 1987, he established his own brokerage firm, Gardner Rich, in Chicago, Illinois.

Having faced so many obstacles in his own life, Gardner is now involved in homelessness initiatives. His philanthropic endeavors include sponsoring charitable organizations, donating clothing and shoes, and creating low-income housing and opportunities for employment in the part of the city where he was once homeless.

Gardner received the Father of the Year award from the National Fatherhood Initiative in 2001. He was also presented with the 2006 Friends of Africa Award by the Continental Africa Chamber of Commerce. He currently serves as a board member of the National Education Foundation and the International Rescue Committee.

His autobiography, The Pursuit of Happyness, was published in 2006 and soon became a bestseller. It served as an inspiration for the movie of the same name released later that year by Columbia Pictures. Gardner’s second book, Start Where You Are, hit the bookstores in 2009.

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