Pitching to a Crescendo?
In 2003, Lee Annenberg, the widow of media magnate Walter Annenberg, gave $50 million to the Philadelphia Orchestra—at the time, the second-largest such gift ever made. Lee passed away in 2009, and, in April, Philadelphia became the first major orchestra to file for bankruptcy protection. In its petition, the orchestra cited the need to shed tens of millions of dollars in future pension liabilities, a problem compounded by its inability to tap into restricted endowment funds to cover pension costs. Heightening the drama is a stipulation of Annenberg’s gift: that the Annenberg Foundation can ask for the money back if the orchestra were to file for bankruptcy. The Annenberg money is the centerpiece of the orchestra’s endowment, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. If the foundation were to request its return, the orchestra might have to withdraw its bankruptcy petition. The foundation, whose board consists of Walter’s daughter, Wallis Annenberg, and her three adult children, has yet to make that request. “We’re watching,” says Annenberg Foundation executive director Leonard Aube. “Our trustees are voracious readers and are aware of the situation, but there’s nothing actionable at this point.”
If America has civil religion, then the National Archives is the foremost temple. Every year, upwards of one million people visit its hushed rotunda to view original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. In June, David M. Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group and one of Washington’s most prominent donors, made the largest-ever donation to the charity that raises private funds for the National Archives. His $13.5 million gift will create a new gallery in which documents central to the American story can be displayed. Notably, the new gallery will also house Rubenstein’s copy of the Magna Carta (dated A.D. 1297). Rubenstein bought the artifact in 2007 and lent it permanently to the National Archives, where it is the only copy on display in the United States. As he explained at the announcement of his gift, “I am honored to assist the National Archives as it works to remind Americans—and all visitors—of the sacred freedoms we are privileged to have in this country.”
Among its many treasures, the Louvre houses one of the world’s finest collections of Persian art—including the foundation charter of Darius I from his palace at Susa; artifacts from Persepolis; and pages from one of the oldest extant manuscripts of the Shahnameh, or Book of Kings, composed in the ninth century A.D. In May, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar an-nounced a $3 million gift to the Louvre for exhibitions, education, and research based on the Persian collection. The French-born, Persian-descended American entrepreneur created the Elahé Mir-Djalali Omidyar Fund, named for his mother, who will work with the Louvre on the fund’s programs. “Working with the Louvre on Persian art and cultural programs is a unique and wonderful opportunity,” says Elahé Omidyar. “I am grateful to be able to share the beauty of Persian culture with the public through special exhibitions, conferences, publications, and other initiatives. The Louvre’s new Islamic wing, which is currently under construction, will include a significant representation of Persian art.”
Honoring Josh Ferrin
In May, Josh Ferrin closed on his first house, a 1950s brick rambler in Bountiful, Utah. After taking possession of the keys, he drove over to inspect his family’s new home. While exploring the garage, he noticed a wayward scrap of carpet in the far corner of the ceiling crawl space. Curious, he went to take a closer look. He discovered a black metal ammunition box stuffed with cash, stamps, and bond certificates. Over the next several hours, he found seven more ammo boxes, each stuffed with small bills, carefully coiled and neatly arranged—in all, over $45,000. He immediately contacted Dennis Bangerter, who had just sold the house in his capacity as executor of his father’s estate. Ferrin informed the Bangerters of his discovery—and then returned everything. If you think Ferrin did the right thing, if your heart warms even the slightest bit to his story, consider this. Rarely has there been a better parable about honoring donor intent. After all, Ferrin had a perfectly valid legal claim to the money, and he certainly could have put it to good use. But a legal claim, he understood, is not the same as a moral claim. “I never considered the money mine,” Ferrin told the Deseret News. “You can’t allow yourself to think like that.”
Trouble Helmsley, RIP
When Leona Helmsley passed away in August 2007, she left $10 million to each of two grandchildren, disinherited two other grandchildren, and left the vast bulk of her estate—estimated at more than $4 billion—to the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. Helmsley also willed $12 million to her beloved Maltese terrier, Trouble. (A Manhattan Surrogates’ Court judge later trimmed the dog’s inheritance to $2 million.) Trouble instantly became a figure of ridicule and the target of death threats; her security cost upwards of $100,000 annually. All of which now belongs to the past. In early June, the New York Times reported the death of 12-year-old Trouble Helmsley. The remaining assets in her trust fund have reverted to the Helmsley Charitable Trust, making Trouble, to the best of our knowledge, the nation’s most generous canine. This much seems certain. That four-and-a-half pound terrier brought a measure of light and joy to an otherwise dark and troubled life. Here’s to wishing her open fields and sunny skies forever. “Heaven goes by favor,” Mark Twain once wrote. “If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.”
Bill Cook, RIP
Bill Cook was always in the driver’s seat. Born in 1931 in Mattoon, Illinois, Cook studied biology at Northwestern University, served as a medic in the Army, and became catalog editor for a hospital supply firm. There, he dreamed up the disposable hypodermic needle and built a business that became the nation’s third-largest manufacturer of hypodermic needles. In 1963, he and his wife, Gayle, started a business making catheters in their Bloomington, Indiana, apartment. From their initial $1,500 investment, Cook grew the business into a medical device empire, with 42 companies producing (among others) cardiovascular products, extruded and injection-molded plastics, stainless steel tubing, urological equipment, OB/GYN devices, and endoscopic instruments. All told, the companies employ 10,000 people and do $1.7 billion in sales each year. But while his business went worldwide, Cook’s philanthropy stuck mostly to local roads. He funded the restoration of several dozen historic buildings in southern Indiana, founded what is now Indiana’s largest YMCA, and supported medical research and health care. Cook gave $1 million to start the Star of Indiana Drum and Bugle Corps, which won the national championships in 1991 and has been a powerhouse ever since. On the band’s summer tours, Bill Cook drove the bus.