In Memoriam A conversation with…Rosemary (72), widow, Greenwich, Connecticut

Rosemary’s husband sold his company for well over $200 million and thought they were set for life. Then he died and as she moved through the grieving process she realized she needed to fill the void in her life with something meaningful, and she also wanted to do something to acknowledge and honor the wonderful 42 years of marriage with Mark.

“I knew what I wanted to do, but not how to do it.”  Mark had set up trusts for the girls, so I wasn’t worried about them.  I had enough money to live comfortably. Mark and I had always been philanthropic. That was one of the many values we shared. So I decided to do something Mark and I had discussed when we were at his 50th college reunion...set up an endowed scholarship program there--but not an academic scholarship, we wanted to give kids a chance to do internships and not worry if they were paid, only if it was a good opportunity.

But all this thinking and planning took a while coming. When Mark died, I can’t explain it, so much of what had been my identity seemed to die with him. I’d gone to college…taken a job with an ad agency--I thought it had potential to turn into a real career.  I was even thinking about graduate school.   But then I met Mark, fell head over heels in love and ran off one weekend and got married. Then life started. Mark was busy building his new company and I was busy having children and taking care of our home.

We used to joke that the company was his first-born child. When Mark sold the company we figured we had both the time and the money to do all those things we had always talked about doing.  But then he got pancreatic cancer.

“I thought it would be more interesting to have a relationship with the organization.”

Mark had pretty much taken care of everything when he was alive. I didn’t want my children taking over for him. That’s when I started to think about what to do next. When he was in the hospital I’d distracted myself by going to the children’s wing. I didn’t realize how difficult that would be, all those very sick children, so many with cancer. But I talked to the kids, I found out what they wished they could have at the hospital, what would make being there better for them.

A friend of mine…Marilyn...told me that shortly after she lost her husband, she, ‘channeled her grief’ into supporting a number of charitable causes; sitting on boards and committees. She got professional help with her philanthropy.  She said it helped her in so many ways. They talked about what she was trying to do with her money, the things she cared about, even what she wanted to do in terms of her children and their inheritance. 

I talked to our attorney and investment advisor--together--so we would all hear the same thing. They suggested that I set up a foundation but that didn’t feel right. I didn't want to have all that work and wasn't sure what I'd do with it. Maybe that could be part of my legacy, but first I needed to figure out some things. My attorney pointed me toward a couple of firms to talk to, and that was the beginning.

It was quite an education particularly when it came to the scholarship fund. I guess I always thought that an institution would do whatever we asked because of the amount of money they were being given, and they will, now, but only because my philanthropic advisor and my attorney worked together to put some very specific expectations and guidelines in writing that would accompany that money! 

I decided not to wait until I died to set up a foundation. I thought it would be more interesting to get involved now so I could have a relationship with organizations I was going to fund later on. That way I knew what they could and would do. Of course that meant I needed to decide what I wanted to do with the foundation...what I really cared about and what organizations were doing it...and that’s when I remembered the conversations with the kids in the hospital.   I’ve been funding special programs there and research into adolescent cancer. Every time I visit the hospital, as hard as it is sometimes, I feel like I’m doing something that really matters. 

Oh, and the scholarship program in Mark’s name at his college is going very well. I get these wonderful letters from the students which I’m keeping for my grandchildren to see. I can’t help but feel Mark is up there smiling at how I chose to use the money he worked so hard for us to have."

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