Unassuming Manhattan widow leaves $20 million philanthropic gifts to NYC.

Unassuming Manhattan widow leaves $20 million philanthropic gifts to NYC.

Mary Bailey

A testament to the human spirit.

Here’s a delightful story that ought to give all of us a moment to pause. It involves that of Mary Bailey who at the age of 88 passed away in February 2011 and has now it has been discovered left a sizable amount of her fortune to NYC’s Central Park and that of the NY Public library. Each receiving $10 million. Yet what is even more remarkable is that no one really knew how well off she was in the first place, especially because she never made any bones about her wealth.

Reports the nypost this morning: The shy widow, whose husband died in World War II, had no children, lived in a modest apartment on the East Side, and volunteered at a hospital and schools.

Reflects her best friend and neighbor Lizanne Stoll where Bailey lived on the Upper East side:

“You would have never known she was rich. When we went to lunch, it was usually dutch. She was very secretive about it all.”

Secretive and dutch. How interesting. In today’s modern day age where money and financial success are so often the barometers of social status and acceptance here was a woman who hardly acknowledged her wealth and perhaps was somewhat uncomfortable about it who in fact simply just chose to live it with élan, simplicity and little fanfare.

Even the library didn’t know how much she was going to donate.

“I met her many times and had lunch with her twice, but I cannot remember her voice. That’s how soft-spoken she was,” said John Bacon, the NY Public library’s director of planned giving.

“She was always neat and careful, but nothing fancy. No jewelry, no nothing. And always a track suit — day, night or otherwise.’’

The post goes on to note how Bailey came from a moneyed family and how after moving to NYC in the 1940’s never remarried after her husband  passed away and continued living a simple life, having by then taken up work as a kindergarten teacher.

She attended Columbia and briefly taught kindergarten in Chelsea, but when her mother died and left her and her siblings a sizable inheritance, she stopped working.

“I think once she had that money set aside, she didn’t give a damn [about it]. She didn’t feel it was hers at all,” Stoll said.

And here’s the part that really catches the eye and makes one wonder what it was about Mary Bailey that didn’t let the idea of money get in the way and how she chose instead unlike so many of us in today’s modern day and age just to keep things simple, un flashy and probably one assumes just very much to herself:

She attended Columbia and briefly taught kindergarten in Chelsea, but when her mother died and left her and her siblings a sizable inheritance, she stopped working.

“I think once she had that money set aside, she didn’t give a damn [about it]. She didn’t feel it was hers at all,” Stoll said.

Which might inspire the question why did Mary Bailey not believe the money wasn’t hers? What had precipitated in her life that advanced such notions? Either way the city ought to be grateful because one of its greatest benefactors has given back to us so we as a society can ensure ongoing viability. How refreshing that individuals like Mary Bailey still exist in the world.

Of note Mary Bailey insisted on no funeral upon her death but one reckons she has now assumed a kind of legacy beyond any funeral that one could have given her.