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‘Penniless’ Seattle lawyer knew what mattered in life

Jack MacDonald (Photo courtesy of the Seattle Children’s Hospital)Jack MacDonald, who died in September at 98, graduated from the University of Washington law school in 1940 and worked for more than thirty years as a lawyer for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Although his parents had left him some money from their Seattle business, the MacDonald Meat Co., he rode public buses, wore sweaters with holes in them, and in later years lived in a modest retirement home. Most people assumed MacDonald was nearly penniless. But they were wrong.

When MacDonald died, he left $187.6 million in a charitable trust for the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, the University of Washington School of Law, and the Salvation Army, according to the Seattle Times.

Although childless, he designated 40 percent of the trust for the Seattle Children’s Research Institute. It was the biggest philanthropic gift in Washington state this year, and the sixth-largest in the country in 2013, the Times said.

Thirty percent of the trust goes to the UW law school, and the Salvation Army Northwest Division will also get 30 percent.

MacDonald, it turned out, was a genius stock picker. Over sixty years, he’d parlayed the nest egg inherited from his parents into a secret fortune.

When it came to picking stocks, “he was amazing,” his stepdaughter, Regen Dennis, of Utah, told the Seattle Times. “He didn’t trust a lot of other people to do his research; he directed what he wanted bought, and he really knew what he wanted.”

Over the years he supported hundreds of causes with smaller donations, including $536,000 to the Children’s Research Institute and anonymous gifts to a small town in Canada where his parents are buried, the story said.

MacDonald clipped coupons and bought food in bulk when it went on sale.

“I thought of him in many ways as a gentle giant,” Doug Picha, president of the Seattle Children’s Foundation, who was a friend of MacDonald’s for 30 years, told the Seattle Times. “He was tall, very shy, very understated, humble. You would never have known that he had great wealth.”

The gift surprised people at the Salvation Army. “We didn’t know him, but he definitely knew us,” said Major Douglas Tollerud, divisional commander, in a statement.

“He felt really good about what he was doing with his money,” his stepdaughter said, “and our family feels good about what he’s doing with his money.”

Read more about Jack MacDonald from the Seattle Children’s Hospital.


Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for sharing is a life's lesson.

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