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MarketInsight | Acres of Diamonds


Sometimes, we find inspiration in the place we least expect. This is a story that my father used to tell and which I will now share with you. It is a story about two men, Russell Conwell and Johnny Ring. Russell Conwell did not believe in God. He was proud of his lack of faith. In 1862, before he could graduate from Yale, he enlisted in the Union Army. The townsfolk from his little town in Massachusetts sent him off to fight with a beautiful ceremonial sword. Captain Conwell was even prouder of that sword than he was of his atheism.

In camp, Conwell was assigned an orderly named John Quincey Ring. Ring would stay with Conwell for most of the war. One of his jobs was to care for the captain’s prized sword. Ring would polish and oil it and keep it safe. Some say that Ring was a Quaker. He was almost certainly an early conscientious objector. He refused to fight. Every night, Johnny Ring read his Bible and he prayed. He prayed for his country, his family, his comrades, and his commander. This behavior irritated Conwell and he expressly forbade Ring’s prayers. At one point, it is said that Conwell even took the young man’s Bible away! But, Johnny Ring answered to a higher authority and he prayed continuously for his commander’s redemption.

One day, the Confederates overran the Union camp. Conwell and his men fled across a bridge which they set aflame. Ring, remembering the sword, ran back into enemy fire to retrieve the precious symbol of his captain’s honor. He returned to Conwell clutching the sword in his hands. His body was badly burned, and he collapsed exhaling his final breath as he laid the sword at Conwell’s feet.

Shortly thereafter, Conwell was badly injured near Atlanta. He spent months in a military hospital recovering. It was during his recuperation that Conwell found God. Remembering Ring’s sacrifice, he prayed daily, promising that if he recovered he would accomplish the work of two men: Johnny Ring and himself. After the war, he became a Baptist minister. He moved to Philadelphia, where he started a school he called the Temple. That school became Temple University. The school of theology at Temple was named the Conwell School of Theology. In fact, we have one here in Jacksonville: The Gordon-Conwell School of Theology.

Russell Conwell was one of this nation’s first motivational speakers. His most famous work was a speech called “Acres of Diamonds.” The essence of that speech is that you can travel the world looking for fame, fortune, or purpose only to find what you are looking for in your own backyard. Conwell would give the speech 6,152 times before his death in 1925.

Investments often work like this as well. Over and over, I see investors looking for the next great idea like it was some sort of pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The reality is that most of the really good investments you will make in your lifetime are right there in front of you, in your own backyard. Great American companies that we all know and love. Look for great companies at a reasonable price. As Warren Buffet says, “It’s far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price.”

Scott A. Grant is President of Standfast Asset Management in Ponte Vedra Beach. He welcomes your comments or questions at

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