By Melissa Joy
When I first agreed to write this article, I wasn’t sure what the topic would be. But sometimes the universe will point you in the right direction. As a financial planner, I am given the opportunity to know people throughout many stages of their lives. And a compelling story I have to tell is about Betty Blair, a special octogenarian who I had to bid farewell to earlier this summer. When I first met Betty eight years ago, she did not feel heard by her financial advisor and had asked a trusted friend for recommendations. Fortunately, he gave her my name!
Betty Blair was a trailblazing journalist. She spent more than 20 years working at the Detroit News during the tail end of her career. Prior to that, she had worked at newspapers across the country covering women’s issues. She told me that in her ideal world, there would be no need for a dedicated “women’s section” of the paper. Although the women’s section was what she became known for writing and editing, Betty strongly believed that stories about women should not be relegated to a separate section of the paper. They stand on their own merit and are relevant to everyone.
A half century ago, Betty won awards for her work covering the lives of Black women in Mississippi in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. I was interested to read her news clippings, some of which addressed issues of aging and nursing care. It was especially poignant to read these stories while in Betty’s assisted living room, which had been converted for hospice care in the last weeks of her life.
After experiencing some health challenges during her 90s, Betty survived heart surgery and succeeded in her goal, shared tongue in cheek, to “live longer than the Trump presidency.” COVID offered extra challenges for an elderly person without living family members nearby. As a resident of an assisted living facility during the advent of COVID, Betty was forced into isolation because her body was fragile and vulnerable to infection. However, her mind remained sharp as a tack.
The challenges of isolation during COVID were especially daunting because Betty did not use electronic communications. She had never owned a cell phone or email account. Regardless, she soldiered on through COVID, often reflecting on the current political climate while also enjoying the beauty of classical music, especially works performed by her beloved organizations, Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings and Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival.
So, what makes Betty’s legacy timeless? Everything I’ve mentioned thus far captures moments in time during a life well lived. But notably, Betty Blair is the first client I’ve had who left the bulk of her estate to charity. Because of her gifts and bequests, her legacy will live on through the work of organizations that were important to her. Those organizations include her beloved music organizations listed above, and her house of worship, Birmingham Unitarian Church.
Each year, Betty and I would sit down together and discuss her annual charitable gifts. She made substantial gifts each year to the 501c(3) nonprofit organizations most important to her, typically through qualified charitable distributions from IRA accounts. Even in the last weeks of her life, Betty carefully planned her annual giving to fit her funding priorities. Betty’s legacy did not stop with annual gifts. She also drafted her will to include legacy bequests to her beloved organizations. Over the years, Betty adjusted her will and estate plan to fit her preferences. Through these gifts, which are being administered as we speak, Betty is supporting the endowments of the organizations that mattered the most to her.
Here’s a question: how can you leave a timeless legacy? Does Betty’s story inspire you? Some things worth considering:
- What issues or organizations are important to you? If you could fund the work of a person or organization as part of your planned giving through an estate plan, what would be at the top of your list?
- Are there conversations you would like to have or actions you would like to take toward making your own legacy timeless?
- Are there stories like Betty’s that have helped shape your perspective on legacy and giving?
For me, it was a gift to know Betty Blair. I feel compelled to share her story. Betty’s timeless legacy is a shining example of how to make an impact on the world even after you’re gone. If you find it inspiring, I encourage you to think about making your own impact in the way Betty did.
Melissa Joy, CFP®, CDFA® is a financial planner and divorce financial analyst with more than two decades of experience in the world of financial services. In 2018, Melissa fulfilled a lifelong dream of starting her own company by founding Pearl Planning, located in Dexter, Michigan with additional locations in Grosse Pointe, Birmingham, and Charlevoix.