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$28 million gift sets record for philanthropy
By Chris Barnett / February 27, 2017 /   Loading Disqus...
The Rhode Island Foundation has received the largest, single unrestricted gift in the organization’s 100-year history. The $28 million donation comes from the estate of the late Frederick B. Wilcox, a Providence banker and entrepreneur.

“One hundred years ago, we were founded in order to address the needs of the day,” said Neil Steinberg. “Unrestricted gifts such as this give us the resources and flexibility to tackle the Rhode Island’s most urgent needs no matter how they change over time.”

The Wilcox estate gift will be added to the Foundation’s endowment, generating income year after year to support the Foundation’s annual grantmaking.

“The funds will be invested for the long-term benefit of all Rhode Islanders,” said Steinberg. “Year after year it will generate the means to support organizations and programs that strive to solve significant community challenges as they arise.”

The Foundation focuses on four strategic initiatives: economic security, educational success, healthy lives and inspiring philanthropy, and makes grants in eight key sectors: arts and culture, basic human needs, children and families, education, economic security, environment, health and housing. In the past five years alone, the Foundation has awarded more than $180 million in grants to more than 1,600 nonprofit organizations.

The Wilcox gift was triggered by the death of his daughter Nancy at age 95 late last year. When Wilcox passed away in 1965, his will directed that the Foundation would be the primary beneficiary of his estate after her passing.

"My grandfather had great foresight and trust in the Rhode Island Foundation. By leaving an unrestricted gift, he showed well placed confidence in the Foundation's ability to effectively steward the funds and address issues of the day," said Nancy’s son, Ted Mattis.

The $1 million estate that Wilcox left in 1965 grew dramatically over the years.

“Through his insightful planning and my mother’s prudent stewardship, my grandfather will be helping to take care of community needs for generations to come,” Mattis said.

Wilcox rose from humble beginnings to become a partner with Bodell & Company, private investment bankers in Providence, and president and chairman of the former Phenix National Bank, which became part of what is now Bank of America.

"He left school at a young age, took a job as a bookkeeper, at the old Shepard's department store in Providence, and went from there," said Mattis, adding that his grandfather served on many boards, including as chairman of International Utilities and a trustee at Brown University.

Only nine years old when his grandfather died, Mattis knew him largely through family legend.

“My mother quoted him nearly every day of her life. She was her father's daughter," Mattis remembers, proudly noting "her wonderful stewardship" of her father's trust. "She greatly enhanced her father's legacy."

Founded with a $10,000 gift from Jesse Metcalf in 1916, the Foundation celebrated its centennial last year with a series of community activities highlighted by a campaign to raise $10 million to preserve and improve Roger Williams Park.

The Foundation has already raised more than $8.1 million, including $1.95 million from The Champlin Foundations to restore the Park’s historic Bandstand, Temple to Music and Museum. More than 150 donors have contributed to the campaign.

In addition addressing the immediate restoration of the park, the Foundation will create a $5 million endowment to provide a permanent source of funding for the Roger Williams Park Conservancy, an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to ongoing stewardship of the park.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. Through leadership, fundraising and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential.
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