True Wealth

When I was reporting, I wrote a story about a woman named Mary Gardner. The story got started because she’d left a donation — small by philanthropic standards, maybe $100,000 or so — to the local public library and the library had had no idea who she was. One call led to another to another, and what emerged was a story about an elderly lady who had no children nor husband, who inherited a chunk of money from real estate investments and who gave all that cash — more than a million that we knew about — away.

And she didn’t do it for celebrity philanthropic efforts, that was the neat thing. She didn’t use it to buy a table at a benefit for some foundation that spent more on PR than it did on curing whatever disease it was founded to cure. She sent kids to summer camp instead, and paid for library books, and fed the homeless, and made small money problems of small organizations disappear.

If I ever wanted to be rich, that’s the kind of rich I’d want to be. One of Mr. A’s and my favorite games to play on long car rides (which usually involve trips to Wisconsin past numerous Powerball Lottery signs) is “what would you do with $40 million?”

Our answers generally involve boring-ass stuff like paying off our mortgage and those of our family members and friends, solving the problems of the small charities we already support, a charitable foundation of our own. I’d like to use that money to be Mary Gardner Rich.

What would you do with it?

A.