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NASHVILLE'S LADY BOUNTIFUL

Married to a multi-millionaire, former reporter and TV anchor Ruth Ann Leach Harnisch, of Nashville, Tennessee, doesn't believe in doing good by stealth. And she has discovered that it's better to give than to receive.

Six years ago, she established the Harnisch Family Foundation, which so far has made donations totalling more than $1,500,000 to hundreds of recipients.

"I'm a thrillionaire," she says, "someone who knows the thrill of giving. It's a genuine thrill to have the ability and the willingness to share my money and my time. But I'll admit it's not always a thrill to be asked.

"When I was a less experienced donor, I was often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of 'asks'. My mailbox was filled with requests. People phoned to ask for money. Worse, they phoned asking for an appointment. (When they want to see me, it means they want at least three zeroes on that check. Maybe more.)

"I know how much I gave and when. If I didn't, I'd be tempted to respond spontaneously to multiple requests from charities that ask throughout the year. And I toss, unopened, without guilt or regret, countless direct mail solicitations."

Ruth Ann's husband, William F. (Bill) Harnisch, is chairman of Forstmann-Leff Associates, a New York money firm which manages investments worth $6 billion. He shares his wife's enthusiasm for supporting a wide range of worthwhile projects.

Interviewed by Money Manager Review, he said the Harnisch Family Philanthropies had given grants for research into the causes and cure of Tourette's Syndrome, and for Habitat for Humanity houses, training sessions for women interested in seeking public office, diversion programs for first-time arrestees, scholarships for at-risk youth, conflict resolution workshops for public schools, studies of women on corporate boards, preventing urban sprawl, the development of a national non-profit organization addressing the growing income gap, and hundreds of other organizations.

One of the Foundation's main aims is to promote literacy. When Seattle wordsmith Anu Garg published his A Word A Day book last year, the Foundation undertook to present copies to needy schools and libraries around the world, at the rate of one a day. More than 300 books have already been sent to 50 countries.

BRITISH LADY BOUNTIFULS

Once upon a time, this kind of philanthropy would have been the exclusive preserve of the toffs who saw their responsibility as giving handouts to the deserving poor. But if yesterday's Lady Bountiful was a duchess, today's is more likely to be a media personality; our great and good have expanded to include the media-ocracy as well as the aristocracy.

More important, it reveals that the welfare state, which was supposed to have replaced Lady Bountiful, has failed. We have lost confidence in its ability to educate, and improve the wellbeing of, our most needy citizens. We -- or at least our media moguls -- now feel we must step in to get things moving. The new Lady Bountifuls may look down their noses and sound as self-righteous as their predecessors. But the results of their charitable efforts are impressive -- and it all makes for great television, too.
- Lady Bountiful is dead. Long live Jamie Oliver and Lord Puttnam! (New Statesman, Jan 13, 2003, by Cristina Odone).

The first Lady Bountiful was a character in The Beaux- Stratagem, a comic play by Irish dramatist George Farquhar (1677-1707). Here's part of the dialogue. The speaker is the innkeeper Will Boniface (another name which, like Lady Bountiful's, has survived as an eponym for 300 years):

Thomas Aimwell: Who's that Lady Bountiful you mentioned?

Will Boniface: Ods my life, sir, we'll drink her health. [Drinks.] My Lady Bountiful is one of the best of women. Her last husband, Sir Charles Bountiful, left her worth a thousand pound a year; and, I believe, she lays out one-half on't in charitable uses for the good of her neighbours. She cures rheumatisms, ruptures, and broken shins in men; green-sickness, obstructions, and fits of the mother, in women; the king's evil, chincough, and chilblains, in children: in short, she has cured more people in and about Lichfield within ten years than the doctors have killed in twenty; and that's a bold word.

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Story first posted May 2004

Copyright 2004

Eric Shackle

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