'The conscience of the family'
Paul Epstein is teaming with his GM brother to help children in need
Among his community activities, Paul Epstein (right) has served as a big brother to Andre Gomes. They're seen here during a portrait session. (Globe Staff Photo / Matthew J. Lee)
When he became general manager of the Boston Red Sox in 2002, Theo Epstein had a pretty good idea that his privacy was a thing of the past. And no one was happier about that than his twin brother.
A social worker at Brookline High School, Paul Epstein viewed his sibling's newfound celebrity as an opportunity -- not for himself, but for the countless causes and kids to whom he devotes so much of his time.
''Paul's eyes lit up when I told him I got the job," Theo recalls. ''He's really the conscience of our family. When Paul sees someone in need, he acts, and when I took this job he figured I'd be in a position to help him do that."
For the first year or so, while Theo was engrossed in the details of his new position, the arrangement between the brothers was informal. Theo donated tickets to needy kids, auctioned off his private box at Fenway for charity, and gave away the unwanted swag that came his way. When Sports Illustrated offered the young GM a home-entertainment system to speak at one of its events, Theo accepted, then passed the item on to Paul, who promptly gave it to a struggling family.
The helter-skelter approach worked, but the brothers wanted to do more. To that end, they've formed A Foundation to Be Named Later, an extension of the Red Sox Foundation benefiting eight programs for at-risk or low-income kids. The foundation's official kickoff is tonight at Fenway, when the likes of Buffalo Tom, Fountains of Wayne, Juliana Hatfield, Kay Hanley, and Bronson Arroyo will perform for as many as 5,000 people after the game against the Yankees.
'' 'Hot Stove, Cool Music' is, by far, the best charitable event I've ever been involved with," Theo says, referring to the annual midwinter benefit concert for the Jimmy Fund. ''As Paul and I thought about a signature event for the foundation, we thought about something like that. We didn't want to do a rubber-chicken dinner."
As Paul Epstein sits down to talk about the foundation and his and Theo's foray into organized philanthropy, it's apparent immediately that, like his celebrated sibling, he is a humble and hardworking sort, happy to chat about nearly anything but himself. But since his outlook and activism are the impetus for A Foundation to Be Named Later, Paul is reluctantly stepping into the spotlight with his brother.
Born 60 seconds before Theo, 31-year-old Paul is, technically, the middle of Leslie and Ilene Epstein's three children. The brothers' 33-year-old sister, Anya, is a screenwriter who lives on the West Coast with her husband, actor Dan Futterman, and daughter Sylvie.
Growing up a sports-obsessed kid in Brookline, Paul was not always interested in saving the world. Indeed, aside from a brief volunteer stint with Habitat for Humanity, community service was not something that occupied a lot of his time as a teen.
''My kids never collected money for Cambodia or anything like that. It really wasn't a passionate thing we were known for," said Ilene Epstein, who owns a women's clothing store in Brookline with her twin sister, Sandy, and friend Marcie Brawer. ''We probably could have done more, actually."
While Theo was at Yale, Paul was not far away at Wesleyan. He majored in classics, but it was sports that led him to a career in social work. As a college freshman, Paul played on the soccer team, whose captain was active in the Big Brothers program in Middletown, Conn. Although he didn't require the younger players to become mentors, he strongly suggested it.
Paul liked the idea, and was matched with Doug Devanney, a plucky 12-year-old boy whose dad was out of the picture.
''At first, I had misgivings. I thought watching and playing sports would be a big bonding area, but my little brother was completely not into sports," Paul says. ''So we did other stuff, like create a journal on my laptop, and take it outside and write."
That was 13 years ago. Today, Devanney is 25, and a graduate student studying library and information science at Simmons College. He remains close with Paul, even if he doesn't see him as often as he used to. Six years ago Paul was matched with a second little brother, Andre Gomes.
''Paul's definitely someone I can relate to. He's the same person that I met however many years ago, and the relationship's only gotten better," said Gomes, who's 17 and lives in Hyde Park. ''After the first year, we weren't big brother and little brother, we were part of each other's families."
Paul has been back in Boston since graduating from college. After receiving a master's degree in social work from Boston University, where his father is the director of the creative writing program, he worked at the Home for Little Wanderers and, briefly, at Big Brothers of Massachusetts Bay before being taking the job at his alma mater, Brookline High School.
''Paul knows no bounds in terms of what he'll do to extend himself to someone in need," says his wife of four years, Saskia Grinberg, whom met Paul while working at the Home for Little Wanderers. ''I could come home today and find our stereo has been disconnected and removed because Paul knows someone who doesn't have the ability to listen to the Haitian radio station."
That's apparently no joke. Theo recalls a time a few years ago when he returned to his Back Bay apartment to find his coffee table missing. ''Paul told me, 'There's a family moving from Africa, and they have nothing,' " Theo says, laughing. ''I told him, 'Pretty soon I'll have nothing.' "
The brothers say the goal of their foundation is straightforward: To raise as much money and to do as much good as possible for the selected charities. ''What you see is what you get with Paul," says Sandra McCroom, executive director of Roxbury Youthworks, one of the eight agencies benefiting from the foundation. ''He is a genuine humanitarian."
Although neither Theo nor Paul view the foundation as a political entity -- ''It's hard to be against helping disadvantaged kids," Theo says -- both brothers acknowledge they are frustrated that programs for children are shortchanged as professional athletes and front-office executives are paid millions for their games.
''For me," says Paul, ''I get angry when I think about the amount of money that's going to players or is being generated by the clubs. There are very few athletes who do as much as they should in the community."
Theo agrees, and even suggests the government might someday want to regulate professional sports.
''Not to offend any libertarians out there," he says, ''but it's not outrageous that 50 years from now the government could regulate sports, and basically cap player and front-office salaries and redistribute some of that money to, say, teachers."
With that, Theo tugs on the bill of his baseball cap and takes a deep breath.
''I spend a lot of time thinking about what the hell's wrong with America, and what the hell's wrong with the world, and sometimes that results in misguided political discussions," he says. ''But I don't think people want to tune in to their local TV station and see their GM talking about much besides baseball."
As they hustle to get A Foundation to Be Named Later off the ground, the brothers say they are keeping it simple: no highly paid help and no elaborate office space. Whatever they raise during the year, combined with Theo's personal contribution, will be given entirely to the agencies.
They're also hoping tonight's concert at Fenway will be an annual affair, an opportunity for talented local acts to put on a good show for a great cause. ''Theo called, and I said, 'Of course, I'm in,' " says Bill Janovitz of Buffalo Tom. ''You kidding? This is the kind of thing you arrange your schedule around."
Paul will not be out front tonight, but then he rarely is, says Gomes.
''The father's a professor, the mother owns a store, Theo's the GM of the Red Sox, and his sister writes for TV," he says. ''Paul found his thing, and his thing is connecting with young people. Everybody gets busy, but Paul never loses contact. He's always there for you."