Quiet Simsbury Millionaire Makes Another Huge Donation

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HARTFORD – Kathleen Magowan worked briefly at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center more than 50 years ago, but she always kept a place in her heart for the institution.

She stopped working there as a nurse to pursue her real passion as a teacher, which led to a 35-year career in the Simsbury public schools. Through the decades, Magowan was a frugal spender and her wealth skyrocketed with the help of investment advice from her twin brother, Robert.

The Magowan twins have since passed away, but their estates recently delivered stunning gifts to the hospital foundation: totaling $900,000.

The size of the gifts caught those at the foundation off guard.

“We were as surprised as anyone,’’ said Fiona Phelan, a spokeswoman for the hospital, which announced the gift this week.

The foundation’s president and chief development officer, E. Merritt McDonough, Jr., said, “The Saint Francis family is extremely grateful for the support and trust the Magowans have placed in Saint Francis to be a good steward of their gifts.’’

The hospital’s library will be renamed the Magowan Health Sciences Library.

Some details about Kathleen Magowan’s philanthropy came out in The Hartford Courant in late November, but St. Francis was not on the list of recipients that was revealed at that time. Estate lawyers declined to reveal any details about her brother\’s philanthropy because his money had been kept in trusts and was not available to the public through the probate court.

The Magowan twins lived low-key lives in Simsbury, sharing a home for years on Route 10 within walking distance of a bagel store and a Chinese restaurant. They never generated headlines during their lives, and their obituaries never mentioned anything about their wealth. The home, along one of the town’s busiest streets, sold for less than $250,000.

But Kathleen Magowan died with an estate of $6 million, and her brother, who died one year before her in June 2010, left an estate of $3.75 million. Between them, they had nearly $10 million, but their unassuming manner and lack of major philanthropy during their lives have made the gifts even more surprising.

Thinking her career was in medicine, Kathleen graduated from St. Joseph\’s College in West Hartford with a degree in the first nursing class in 1947. She then started working in the pediatric unit at St. Francis before deciding to switch careers and teach in elementary school.

She eventually received a master\’s degree in education in 1953 and retired from the Simsbury schools in 1984.

Living a frugal lifestyle, Magowan had relatively few expenses. Never married, she had no day care expenses or bills for college tuition. She had no mortgage after inheriting the family home from her parents.

With no children or siblings to receive her money, Magowan turned to her favorite charities. Besides the hospital, Kathleen left more than $500,000 to her alma mater, the University of St. Joseph, nearly $480,000 to her beloved Simsbury schools, more than $400,000 to the McLean nursing home in Simsbury where she died, and nearly $375,000 to her local parish, St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church. In total, she left more than $5 million to 15 charities, along with money for seven relatives and neighbors. Although she had donated to her alma mater every year for the last 40 years of her life, university officials had not expected to receive more than a half million dollars.

The original story on the front page of The Hartford Courant in late November 2013 ended up on web sites from Florida to Los Angeles to Australia and prompted a story in early December on the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.

Robert, who worked as an agent for Prudential Insurance, was the family’s financial wizard and the key to his sister’s wealth accumulation as he oversaw the stocks and bonds that she largely ignored during her life. Those stocks exploded in value from the 1960s and 1970s to reach spectacular heights by 2013.

It appears that the Magowans rarely threw anything away.

The nearly 100-year-old house in Simsbury, where their parents had lived, contained National Geographic magazines dating back to 1929, record albums from the 1920s along with a record player that still worked, an uncashed check for $2,500, and a life insurance policy dating back to 1949.

One of the most surprising discoveries came after Kathleen Magowan’s death when a neighbor who was helping the attorneys found a Quaker Oats can in a closet that contained original war bonds from the 1940s and 1950s. They were largely in small denominations of $50 and $100, but the attorneys had no idea what the bonds might be worth.

After some research on the Internet, they got their answer – the papers in the Quaker Oats can were worth $183,000.

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