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Dr. Jean Hoerni is a former mountaineer turned multi-millionaire who gets Mortenson's cause off the ground with a twelve thousand dollar donation. His only demand: "Don't screw up" (5.58). He fits into the crotchety mentor role pretty well: crusty on the outside, soft and gooey on the inside. When Mortenson does screw up and realizes, oh, there's a giant canyon here I need to cross, and has to build a bridge in order to build the school Hoerni's already funded, Hoerni helps with this project, too.
Mortenson doesn't meet Hoerni in person until after the bridge is built, and he finds him to be a slight man with a drooping moustache and oversized glasses, making us think that all his bellyaching is just a way to make himself seem bigger. Then again, though, he is the one signing the checks. So maybe he's just trying to keep Mortenson in check.
Hoerni adds a sense of dramatic urgency to Mortenson's quest when he says "I must see that school before I die" (14.23)—and since he's about to die any minute, Mortenson has to hurry. Hoerni gets his wish when Mortenson brings a picture of the school to hang in the man's hospital room. He tells Mortenson, "I love you like a son" (14.69), dies, and is eulogized by Mortenson who later spreads his ashes off the bridge he paid for. It's a fitting tribute for the man who almost single-handedly got Mortenson's mission off the ground.