Why Wait?

A month or so after the old woman, a widow to a former university professor, had agreed to leave a bequest in her will to fund an endowment, she called me to say, “I am so excited. I figure, why wait? The college is still in my will, but I would like to start your plan immediately. Can you meet me at the bank so I can make a $40,000 contribution before the new year?” She was excited because “my plan” honored her husband; it didn’t just remember him.

Our first meeting occurred in her living room. She explained that she wanted to do something to honor her husband who had been a professor at the engineering college for which I worked. She thought that a scholarship in his name would be a great way to remember him; he had passed away many years before we met. I thanked her for her interest and commented on the beauty of wanting to make a gift such as that. “Would you tell me his story now? And the story of the two of you?” I asked. Their story was beautiful.

She conveyed her pride in how he committed much of his time and energy to students outside the classroom. She shared that part of his signing requirements was a new refrigerator; “they were hard to get after World War II,” she said with a smile. She proudly celebrated her late husband, a man who believed in education, in students, and in giving of his “free” time and energy to help students succeed. After a wonderful conversation, I promised to return in the near future with a proposal that would properly honor him. If she agreed with the concept, the document would be used by her attorney and other advisors to craft her will appropriately to fund it.

As luck would have it, the dean’s secretary knew where to direct me when I asked if personnel files from that era were available anywhere. The late professor’s file confirmed the woman’s stories, and shared even more insights into the man. The old black and white photo of him spoke to me. I knew what to do. A scholarship for students would remember him, but an award to honor professors with his values and work ethic would honor him.

A couple of weeks later, I returned to the woman’s house to share the proposal. I started out with, “I was able to find your husband’s personnel file. I don’t think we should do what we talked about before, that is, a scholarship. Faculty members don’t often get recognized for the sort of extra effort your husband always shared. I think an award for faculty members would honor who he was and what he was about. Of course, we can proceed with a scholarship, but I wanted to bring this to you.”

She smiled. She read. And then she dabbed at tears when she put the document onto her end table. The rest, as they say, is history.

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