As a starting forward for the Newman High School basketball team in 1960-61, young Bill Goldring learned some important lessons about competition and teamwork from the Greenies' brand-new head coach, Ed Tuohy. The lessons stuck. The team posted a perfect record and won the state championship.

Tuohy long ago became a legend in Louisiana high school athletics. The Newman gymnasium bears his name, and he influenced hundreds of athletes whose careers span decades in and out of sports.

Bill Goldring is one of them. And for a while, winning that state championship was the defining moment of his life.

Until he turned 21. On that day, his father, Stephen Goldring, gave him a letter that he obviously had composed with great care. It was the only letter he ever wrote to his son.

"In a few days you will be twenty-one years old," the letter begins. "This birthday is important. ... You must stand and be counted. With this new stage of life goes responsibility."

The simple, two-page letter goes on to wish young Goldring three things that all parents wish for their children -- health, happiness and wealth. "Health is our most precious wish," Stephen Goldring wrote. "We cannot give you health. You must take care of yourself, but we do wish you a long life.

"Happiness is a part of your life that you must create for yourself. There is no formula; there are a few basic rules that might help. Keep a clear conscience. ... As the Bible says, 'Walk humbly before your God.'"

Stephen Goldring had spent his life building the family business, Magnolia Marketing Co., into one of the largest independently owned wine and spirits distributors in the country. His letter to Bill focused intently on the matter of wealth -- but not so much on how to acquire it as how to use it wisely. "Intelligent use of wealth can bring power and happiness, not only to you, but to many. Wealth can also bring you much happiness and satisfaction by helping others."

The letter also shows how well Stephen Goldring understood his son's competitive instincts, which were honed so keenly on the basketball court under Coach Tuohy: "The more wealth you have the more responsibilities you have. ... Work and work hard. Play the game of life as you did when you played basketball for the state championship. Play to win -- even if you give it away after you get it. Prove to yourself that you are better than your competition. Don't ever be a loafer."

The final bit of advice that Stephen Goldring gave to his son returned to the matter of responsibility. The father wrote simply: "As you get older you must serve your community; give time as well as money."

Bill Goldring will turn 61 later this month. In the 40 years since his father penned that letter, he has worked hard to follow his father's advice. He has kept himself in excellent health. He has pursued happiness at every turn. And he has expanded the family liquor and wine business in ways that enabled him to earn -- and share -- a great deal of wealth. So much so that he was an easy choice to be Gambit Weekly's New Orleanian of the Year for 2003.

The many causes supported by Bill Goldring are as impressive as they are varied. Tulane University, the Audubon Institute, the Jewish Community Center, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art -- to name just a few -- have enjoyed not only Goldring's financial largesse but also the commitment of his personal time. He is a tireless worker, yet all who know him say he takes great pains to get the job done quietly, behind the scenes and without fanfare.

What's most impressive, however, is how nimbly Goldring juggles his time and resources -- while overseeing a large family business in the fiercely competitive field of alcoholic beverage distribution. He went to work for the family business, Magnolia Marketing Co., right out of college, working under his father's tutelage. He became president of the company in 1982 and chairman in 1991. The family holdings also include the Sazerac Company (makers of Taaka vodka), a distillery in Kentucky, and beverage distribution companies in Louisiana, Florida and Arizona. He also is president of the Goldring Family Foundation and the Woldenberg Foundation, which have given many millions to local charities and institutions over the past 20 years.

But Goldring's civic deeds extend far beyond writing checks. Consider the following list of causes he has championed -- all of which blossomed in 2003:

· Tulane's new $25 million business school annex, Goldring/Woldenberg Hall II, opened in November and immediately doubled the size of the A. B. Freeman Business School. The original building is likewise named Goldring Woldenberg Hall, a reflection of his family's longstanding generosity and commitment to Tulane.

· As a member of Tulane's Board of Trustees, Goldring led the fight to preserve Tulane athletic programs when the university considered scrubbing them for financial reasons. He did it in typical Goldring fashion, behind the scenes and away from the spotlight.

· He chairs the board of the new Ogden Museum of Southern Art and personally guaranteed enough funds for it to open on time (and with sufficient operating capital). The museum's new building on Camp Street is named for Stephen Goldring.

· He led the fund-raising drive for the Holocaust Memorial in Woldenberg Park, which was dedicated last June. The memorial is a "living" work by Jacob Agam, the noted Israeli artist and sculptor. "As you walk around it, it changes image and shapes," Goldring says. "Every three or four feet, it's a completely different picture. Each image symbolizes something different from the Holocaust." Goldring's donation to the memorial reflects one of the cornerstones of his philanthropy -- social justice. He's equally happy to see it placed in Woldenberg Park, where more than 7 million visitors a year will have a chance to see it.

· He made a substantial contribution to, and led fund-raising efforts for, the new Jewish Community Center in Metairie, which opened last February. The center bears his family's name -- another reflection not just of his financial contributions but also of his personal efforts to build the facility. "This JCC, like the one Uptown, has 50 percent of its membership from non-Jewish families," Goldring notes. "That's very important, because it reflects the JCC's commitment to be a resource for the entire community."

In addition to those high-profile projects, Goldring quietly contributes to countless other causes. For example, his companies offer college scholarships to the children of all 3,000 Goldring employees, regardless of where they choose to go to school. The scholarship program started five years ago, which means the first wave of Goldring scholars is graduating from college. If a student earns a full scholarship on his or her own, Goldring still gives the equivalent of a company scholarship to help with college-related expenses.

Among the other local institutions he has supported are the National D-Day Museum, The Southern Institute (which is located at Tulane but is funded independently), the NO/AIDS Task Force, Covenant House, Second Harvesters Food Bank, the Contemporary Arts Center, Project Lazarus, the Red Cross, the Anti-Defamation League, the Urban League, Dillard University, Xavier University, Bridge House, the Preservation Resource Center, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, Touro Infirmary, NOCCA, the Magnolia School, and many others.

On top of all that, Goldring last year moved one of his businesses -- Crescent Crown Distributing Company, which he co-owns with businessman (and former New Orleanian of the Year) Jim Bob Moffett -- onto the burnt-out site of the old MacFrugal's warehouse in eastern New Orleans. The move was announced shortly after Mayor Ray Nagin's inauguration in 2002, and the facility opened a year later. It brought more than 200 jobs to a blighted area and helped jump-start Nagin's economic development efforts.

"We've always tried to maintain our roots in and ties to New Orleans," Goldring says. "I've lived here my entire life, and any time we can do something that will benefit where we live, that's of primary importance. It's also important from a distribution standpoint. That location is great. Plus, it brought back an eyesore. We're just happy to have been able to get a location that made it so easy for us to make a good decision."

Among those who know Goldring well, his generosity is legendary -- yet he is painfully shy when it comes to talking about his philanthropy. "He does things that people don't know about, things the public never hears about," says life-long pal Coleman Adler, who played on the Newman championship basketball team with Goldring in 1961. "He's always helping kids get a college education or helping families. Friends call him all the time asking for help. He genuinely tries to do it all."

"Nobody knows all the extra work he does quietly, because he does so much more than write a big check to get his family's name on a building," says Paul Fine, who works closely with Goldring at his companies and at the foundations. "He always stays calm and works hard to do the right thing. He listens very well to others when there's a difference of opinion, and when they're finished, he gets his point across."

In addition to ducking the spotlight, Goldring is known for working constantly, and feverishly, to get things done. "I've always had a personal motto," he says. "Anything you can do tomorrow, you can do today." His unpublicized efforts to save Tulane athletics are probably the best example of the Goldring touch.

Tulane's trustees have an obligation to examine, periodically, all aspects of the university in terms of their financial and educational viability. Financially speaking, athletics have been a losing proposition. That observation last year led to a protracted -- and painful -- examination of the value and importance of athletics at an institution of higher learning. For die-hard TU fans, it was an easy issue to resolve: athletics must be saved at all costs. For the trustees, who also had to find ways to give professors a pay raise, the choices were not so easy.

Goldring was one of only two trustees determined from the outset to save athletics, but he knew it would be a tough sell. He started by assessing the situation objectively and then using his marketing skills. "We had to rejuvenate interest," he says. "We had to get commitments from people and rejuvenate interest throughout the state -- and throughout the alumni base. It was done in little pockets, by talking to board members outside the meeting, and we just picked them off one at a time."

Fine recalls that it was not a quick fix.

"He was on the telephone constantly, talking to board members, spending time with [TU Athletic Director] Rick Dickson, and just using his influence in a positive way, telling board members why saving Tulane athletics was the right thing to do," says Fine, who worked at Tulane for a decade before joining Goldring's companies. "It was his consensus-building efforts behind the scenes that saved the program, not a grand speech at the board meeting. By the time it came up for a vote, Bill already had the consensus he wanted on behalf of saving athletics. That's very typical of him."

That pattern repeated itself when the Ogden Museum hit several snags before opening last August. From fights with the adjacent Confederate Museum (which appear to have been resolved) to political heat over UNO's participation in the project, Goldring always had plenty of challenges as chairman of the Ogden board. "There was so much hubbub at the last minute to get the project finished," says Fine. "There were just lots of fights over the museum. But Bill single-handedly fixed it. He personally met with Pat Taylor, the governor, the UNO chancellor and anybody else who needed to be included. His message was always the same: 'Trust me, we'll get this done.'"

He did. And when the museum officially opened, Goldring stood silently in the back of Stephen Goldring Hall and let others take the bows. Even now, he gives others all the credit. "Greg O'Brien took the bull by the horns and did what had to be done. Roger [Ogden] came to me and said, 'Look, if you take over as chairman, I think we can pull off this thing.' I generally don't chair committees. ... But Roger talked me into it."

In a way, Goldring's involvement with the Ogden Museum marked the culmination of a passion that grabbed him somewhat late in life. He had always been keenly into athletics ("He found himself, athletically, in tennis," says Coleman Adler), but his interest in art came almost by accident.

"Years ago, we were getting ready to re-do our offices," Goldring recalls. "I did not have good art around here at the time -- just some posters that we'd gotten here and there. So I said to someone, 'You know, we ought to have decent art.' But I didn't know where to look."

Then one day, almost by chance, Goldring ran into local artist and musician Tony Green, whose murals have become an artistic hallmark all over town. "I had just bought one of his works," Goldring says of Green, "and so I mentioned my idea to him. And Tony said, 'Why not? All these New Orleans artists are starving. The only way they're going to make it is to have local people buy their stuff.' I looked at Tony and said, 'You know, you're right.'"

Goldring's offices now include original works by Green, Michalopolous and other local artists. He's constantly on the prowl for new works and new artists, and he takes immense pride in showing off their works to visitors at his Jefferson Highway headquarters.

"He has really good vision in terms of spotting things that will succeed," says Adler. "He's very shrewd, whether it's about business or something else. In business, he's tough but very fair."

Adler and other close friends of Goldring know first-hand about his unique brand of "tough love." He's so passionate about his companies' brands of liquor and wine that if he finds competitors' brands in the homes of friends, he opens the bottles and pours their contents down the drain.

"He's just that competitive," says Fine. "At the same time, I don't know of anybody that Bill has ever treated maliciously. He's got as big a heart as anybody you'd ever want to meet."

His heart probably was never bigger than shortly after his father died in 1997. According to a close friend, Goldring inherited a sizeable fortune from his late father, who was a philanthropist himself. No doubt recalling his father's advice to him when he turned 21, Goldring decided to donate the entire bequest to the family foundation -- effectively sharing it with charities far and wide for generations to come.

Goldring doesn't talk about that decision, but his father no doubt would have approved of it. In giving up all that his father left to him, Goldring showed just how much he is his father's son.