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Someone I wish I could have met

This choked me up when I read it, I really wish I could have known her. Its people like Roberta Langtry that make this world a better place.

Teacher kept her riches secret, then left charity $4.3-million

MARTIN MITTELSTAEDT

ENVIRONMENT REPORTER

TORONTO — During most of her long life, Roberta Langtry was an unassuming elementary school teacher in Toronto.

She always shied away from the limelight and spent many years during her career trying to help autistic children with their speaking difficulties. But Miss Langtry, who died last year at the age of 89, carried an unusual financial secret that has been revealed only through her death.

Unknown to almost everyone who knew her, including her closest friends, the modestly paid teacher was really a closet multimillionaire, who through a bequest has given what is believed to be the largest donation from an individual to an environmental cause in Canada.

Miss Langtry asked that more than $4.3-million of her estate be given to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, a charity that buys environmentally sensitive land and turns it into nature reserves.

But there was no mistake, and Miss Langtry’s legacy is being feted by the conservancy, which is issuing a news release on the donation today. It plans to use the money to buy more wetlands and help safeguard the Oak Ridges Moraine, a pastoral rural area north of Toronto that Miss Langtry held dear and is the subject of large-scale conservation efforts in the province.
http://www.theglobeandmail.com//servlet/story/LAC.20060929.CONSERVANCY29/TPStory/National/


Teacher kept her riches secret, then left charity $4.3-million

MARTIN MITTELSTAEDT

ENVIRONMENT REPORTER

TORONTO — During most of her long life, Roberta Langtry was an unassuming elementary school teacher in Toronto.

She always shied away from the limelight and spent many years during her career trying to help autistic children with their speaking difficulties. But Miss Langtry, who died last year at the age of 89, carried an unusual financial secret that has been revealed only through her death.

Unknown to almost everyone who knew her, including her closest friends, the modestly paid teacher was really a closet multimillionaire, who through a bequest has given what is believed to be the largest donation from an individual to an environmental cause in Canada.

Miss Langtry asked that more than $4.3-million of her estate be given to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, a charity that buys environmentally sensitive land and turns it into nature reserves.

All the details on how Ms. Langtry amassed her nest egg aren’t known. Her will contained other sizable gifts to charity and she made many donations to causes she believed in throughout her life, but her estate’s executor, Robert Borden, declined to give her net worth.

While she was alive, she also made a number of large, anonymous gifts to individuals she knew who were down on their luck. These must have shocked the recipients when they opened envelopes and found an unknown benefactor had sent them cheques for $25,000 or $30,000.

It’s unlikely she was suspected as the source of this generosity because she lived very plainly for someone with ample and growing cash balances.

She lived in a modest one-storey East Toronto home. Mr. Borden said he had quite a time trying to persuade Miss Langtry to part with a 15-year-old Volvo in the mid 1990s. Miss Langtry didn’t like cars and frequently lamented that there were too many of them around.

She never married, had no children and didn’t have the advantage of inherited wealth. In fact, she provided support for several indigent elderly aunts during her life.

Yet even in middle age she was already well off because in 1973 she approached Mr. Borden, then an executive at a Bay Street stockbroker, and asked him to manage her $500,000 in savings, a sizable sum in the days before high inflation eroded the value of money.

Mr. Borden, whose great uncle was the former Prime Minister of the same name, remembers Miss Langtry made a prescient investment call by buying shares of IBM in either the 1940s or 1950s, and kept the stock in the high-tech giant until she died.

But other than that, Mr. Borden said he had her put most of her money into safe bond investments and solid Canadian blue-chip stocks, such as those of the banks and insurance companies, that appreciated nicely over the decades.

Miss Langtry had a bit of a gambler’s streak and sometimes wanted to invest in companies involved in anti-pollution work, but Mr. Borden said he had her limit these more risky ventures to a conservative 10 per cent of her portfolio.

Although grade-school teachers were not well paid before the 1970s, Miss Langtry may have had a modest side income because she developed a number of educational games, based on puzzles, that were sold in the United States.

She began teaching around the age of 16, and did the job for 55 years.

Enid Crush, her next-door neighbour and a close friend, said she had no idea Miss Langtry was well off. She didn’t dress or live ostentatiously and was always frugal in her use of heating and electricity for energy conservation reasons.

But when it came to charitable giving, Miss Langtry did provide clues of greater means. Ms. Crush would go every year collecting for the March of Dimes charity along her street and Miss Langtry always gave the largest donation.

“She’d write a cheque for $300. I said, ‘Roberta, most people, if I’m lucky, give $10.’ It was things like that that she did. She was very, very generous to charity,” Ms. Crush said.

In philanthropic circles, environmental groups have always been poor cousins compared with hospitals and universities, which frequently garner headline grabbing multimillion-dollar donations from wealthy Canadians.

So staff at the conservancy were stunned when Mr. Borden called and coyly asked: “Do you know how much I’ll be sending you?” He then entertained a guess on the amount, before revealing the seven-figure number.

Helen Kim, who handles inquiries from people who donate to the organization and took the call, was taken aback by the unexpected news. “I was dumbfounded,” she said.

Because the conservancy had never received such a large amount, Lynn Gran, the vice-president of philanthropy, said there were fears at first that someone had called them by mistake. “We weren’t entirely sure if it was true, or not,” she said.

But there was no mistake, and Miss Langtry’s legacy is being feted by the conservancy, which is issuing a news release on the donation today. It plans to use the money to buy more wetlands and help safeguard the Oak Ridges Moraine, a pastoral rural area north of Toronto that Miss Langtry held dear and is the subject of large-scale conservation efforts in the province.

Miss Langtry was passionate about the environment, but didn’t seek recognition for donations she made to the conservancy while she was alive. Starting in 1988, she gave about $5,000 to $10,000 a year.

She declined invitations to events the organization held to showcase properties it helped preserve from development. Ms. Kim said she would, however, call the conservancy if she thought mailings to donors were too glossy. Miss Langtry called this a waste of money and wanted something more plain.

Up until now, the largest donation the conservancy has had from an individual was about $1-million. Ms. Gran called other major environmental groups, such as Greenpeace and Ducks Unlimited, and found that they hadn’t had similar gifts.

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