June 29, 1998 12:00 PM

When it comes to giving away money, Alan “Ace” Greenberg, chairman of the Wall Street investment firm Bear, Stearns & Co., has a penchant for the unconventional. He once paid to renovate the bathrooms at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, then erected a plaque naming them for his brother Maynard—after sister DiAnne turned down the honor. Greenberg, 70, is raising more eyebrows with his latest move: donating $1 million to New York City’s Hospital for Special Surgery to fund Viagra prescriptions for financially needy impotent men.

“Viagra has changed people’s lives, both men and women,” explains Greenberg, who made the decision after learning that some insurers have refused to pay for more than a few of the $8-to-$10 potency-enhancing pills a month for each patient. “If I can help one person, it’ll be worth it.” By fall, surprised hospital officials hope to have drafted criteria for dispensing the money. “You do some nutty things,” Greenberg says his wife, Kathryn, 51, told him, “but you’ve made your money, and you can spend it any way you want.”

Which is just what the Oklahoma City native, who joined Bear, Stearns in 1949 and last year earned more than $20 million from the firm, has been doing for decades. He has endowed a center for skeletal dysplasia at Johns Hopkins Hospital and doled out millions to causes such as New York City’s Central Park and Museum of Natural History. Profits from Memos from the Chairman, a bestselling 1996 compilation of his witty office missives, go to scholarships for employees’ families. “He has such a big heart,” says trading assistant Laura Schreiner.

Two months and 1.7 million prescriptions into Viagra-mania, Greenberg’s generosity has unleashed a flood of calls and letters—most thankful, some critical. “I got a fax saying, ‘Why would you spend money helping a bunch of limp old men?’ ” says Greenberg, who owns stock in Viagra-maker Pfizer but declines to say if he has taken the drug himself. “That’s like saying I can’t give money to Central Park. If you give to Central Park, aren’t you helping to improve the quality of life?”

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