LAS VEGAS -- Christopher Gardner, whose life inspired the blockbuster movie Pursuit of Happyness, went from homelessness to president/CEO of Gardner Rich & Co., a stock brokerage, but his greatest success was ensuring he was there for his son.
Gardner's primary goal was to be able to say he was always there for his son after he had grown up without a father, he told attendees of CUNA's America's Credit Union Conference & Expo. When his wife left after he became unemployed and went to jail for $1,200 in unpaid parking tickets that he got because of his scientific sales job, she also took their son.
Nevertheless, he showed up just days after for what he considered his last shot at becoming a stock broker in bellbottom jeans and a red Members Only jacket. Since he "couldn't think of a lie bizarre enough" to explain his situation, he told the truth and was hired. "I did what brokers do not want to do, what they feel is beneath them: cold calls," he explained. He made 200 calls every day and studied all night.
Still, Gardner said his ex would torture him by letting him hear their baby boy sobbing in the background and he had no idea where they were. But after some time, she dropped the boy off at the boarding house where he was then living and left again. Gardner was immediately evicted because the place did not allow for children.
After that they stayed on the streets, sleeping in metro bathrooms and hanging around the airport. In preparation for the shooting of Pursuit of Happyness, he took Will Smith through the places where the homeless stay in the middle of the night and Smith noted that many of the people looked like they were ready to go somewhere. Gardner pointed out that as many as 30% of homeless people are employed.
Through perseverance and hard work, after about a year, he was able to make a living for himself and his son to have a steady residence. "Those people spent $70 million to recreate what I did with nothing," Gardner quipped.
Aside from the material gains, he also achieved his main goal. When he and his son appeared on Oprah, his son who was a toddler during the trials commented, "All I remember every time I looked up my father was there."