It’s 11 a.m. on a summer weekday, and the morning chaos has just subsided in the Brickman household in Potomac. Lane, 8, is off at a playdate with a neighbor. Leah, 14, is at Georgetown Visitation for soccer tryouts. Anna, 16, is at Holy Child for varsity tennis tryouts. And Kenna, 10, has been picked up by her grandmother to go zip-lining. Now Patrice and Scott Brickman are taking a moment to catch their breath.
“Things can get crazy here in the morning, with four kids all going in different directions,” says Patrice, 45.
She and her husband look surprisingly relaxed despite the earlier flurry of activity. She’s barefoot and wearing a flowing skirt with a simple tank top; Scott’s in shorts and a casual shirt and looks boyish even at age 50. You wouldn’t guess that they’re among the most powerful and prominent philanthropists in the region—a distinction that has earned them the 2012 Montgomery County Philanthropists of the Year award from The Community Foundation for Montgomery County (CFMC). This is the award’s sixth year, and the first time it has gone to a couple rather than an individual.
When Scott Brickman isn’t busy with his duties as chairman of the board of the Brickman Group, the landscaping company his grandfather founded, or helping to ferry the kids around, he and Patrice can be found spending time at one of the Montgomery County nonprofits they support.
The Brickmans also have been known to drop whatever they’re doing to help people in need. After Hurricane Katrina, they rented a truck and drove donations and supplies from friends and family to New Orleans.
For the Brickmans, nothing could be more ordinary or obvious than driving a truck 1,000-plus miles to help others. That highlights what is perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the Brickmans: the fact that they don’t see themselves as extraordinary at all.
The Brickmans both come from a long line of volunteers and philanthropists who made giving back to the community a priority.
Scott grew up near Chicago, where his grandfather founded Theodore Brickman Landscaping in 1939. Philanthropy was a core mission of the company from the start, and as a kid, Scott donated his time to landscaping projects for nonprofits and community groups, and participated in service projects with the General Church of the New Jerusalem, a small Christian church that emphasized “being useful” in the world and community. His father joined the company in 1954, and Scott followed in 1986, taking over as CEO a dozen years later at age 35. Today, the company has more than 106 branches in 29 states.
Patrice’s family owned King Farm in Gaithersburg, and she followed in the footsteps of her grandparents: Gladys King led local 4-H clubs, and Harrison King was a longtime Montgomery County school board member. Patrice’s earliest memories are of helping her grandmother lead tours of the family farm for groups such as the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and 4-H clubs.
“Volunteering was just what you did,” Patrice says. “It wasn’t something we focused on or talked about—we just did it.”
She and Scott continued to donate time to various causes as young adults, and made financial gifts to the organizations they worked with whenever they could. Scott moved to the D.C. area in 1987, and he met Patrice on a blind date six years later. They remember being with a group of friends during a snowstorm when someone got a call from a parent who worked at ManorCare Health Services. The storm had prevented many employees from getting to work, and the young man’s mother wondered if he knew anyone who could help.
After walking to the Bethesda nursing home, the entire group spent the day volunteering there. Patrice recalls Scott “holding hands with a woman in her wheelchair, totally happy.” A few months later, Patrice and Scott were engaged, and they married in 1994.
Neither Patrice nor Scott recalls discussing how they wanted to give back as a couple. But there was no question they would continue their philanthropic work.
“It was just something we had both always done, and something we knew we’d continue to do,” Scott says.
By the late ‘90s, Patrice had left her job as an account executive at WJLA-ABC television station in Washington, D.C., to care for her young kids, but she found herself “terribly unhappy” staying home all day. Scott suggested that she pour her energy into volunteer work, adding that she didn’t “need to go make money to be productive,” Patrice says.
So she stopped by the Baptist Home for Children (now The National Center for Children and Families, or NCCF) to inquire about volunteer opportunities. Ari Brooks, the volunteer coordinator at the time, asked Patrice if she’d help with a project to rebuild the center’s outdated playground.
Not long after, the organization’s executive director pulled Brooks aside to ask, “Who’s Patrice Brickman?”
Brooks, now executive director of Friends of the Library, Montgomery County, replied, “She’s a volunteer. Why?”
“Because she just gave us a substantial donation,” the woman said, “and she wants half to go to the playground.”
In addition to that donation, Patrice raised $25,000 for the playground and went on to organize classes for kids at NCCF (her oldest daughters, Anna and Leah, often joined the NCCF kids there) and to chair a capital campaign to raise $15 million for the organization’s new facility.
“When I first met her, she just seemed so sweet and unassuming,” Brooks says. “I think she was wearing jeans and Birkenstocks. I had no idea what she was capable of.”
Meanwhile, Scott was stepping up his involvement in helping the county’s neediest residents. Even as he was working to expand the Brickman Group, now the largest commercial landscape maintenance firm in the country, he was assisting Rockville-based Stepping Stones Shelter with its financial management and leadership structure. Scott also implemented Founders Day at the Brickman Group, now an annual tradition in which employees spend the day working on a community service project.
LeRoy Pingho of Potomac, a longtime friend and former neighbor, sees the Brickmans as a perfect partnership.
“Patrice is outgoing and well-connected throughout the community,” Pingho says. “And Scott is one hell of an entrepreneur. I think he thinks in spreadsheets, to the benefit of every organization he’s worked with.”
And it’s not just Patrice and Scott: Their kids get in on the act, too.
“Very often, you’d see the whole family at [Stepping Stones Shelter], reading to kids, baby-sitting for kids or cooking dinner,” Pingho says. “They have really succeeded in teaching their kids that giving is about more than financial contributions, but is instead about giving of yourself.”
Even as their family lives have gotten busier, the Brickmans continue to delve deeper into philanthropic work, donating time and money to area nonprofits such as Imagination Stage in Bethesda and Neediest Kids in McLean, Va., as well as national organizations such as Visible Men and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
The Brickmans dismiss suggestions that their philanthropy makes them unique.
“Do we volunteer more than the average bear?” Scott says. “I don’t know. So many people volunteer in so many different ways. Maybe we’re more blessed with financial resources to give.”
After knowing the Brickmans for years, Brooks can say with confidence that this isn’t a case of false modesty.
“They look and act like these normal people, but in so many ways they’re extraordinary,” Brooks says. “They don’t think they’re doing anything spectacular or extraordinary. They just think they’re doing the right thing.”
About The Award
The Community Foundation for Montgomery County (CFMC) works with county residents and businesses to assist them in gaining more satisfaction from charitable giving—and to help them give locally in the most effective way. Hundreds of Bethesda-area residents gave more than $5 million to charitable organizations in the county last year, and many more millions to nonprofits worldwide.
That’s why the foundation launched the Montgomery County Philanthropist of the Year award. Seven local residents have been recognized: the late Josh Freeman in 2007; Craig Ruppert in 2008; Stewart Bainum in 2009; Carol Trawick in 2010; Jeffrey Slavin in 2011; and Patrice and Scott Brickman this year. The award-winners are all successful businesspeople who “give where they live.”
If you would like to nominate someone to be the 2013 Montgomery County Philanthropist of the Year, watch for the announcement in the March/April 2013 Bethesda Magazine or on the magazine’s website, BethesdaMagazine.com. To learn more about CFMC, a regional affiliate of The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, go to www.thecommunityfoundationmc.org.
Amy Reinink’s work has appeared in The Washington Post, Entrepreneur and Women’s Running. She lives in Silver Spring.