Weinberg's properties put under group's control Foundation's aims uncertain for now

November 06, 1990|By Ann LoLordo

For the first time in quite a while, Vincent Quayle expected to sleep easier last night. And it's all because of a man he never met but believes he would have liked nonetheless -- Harry Weinberg.

Mr. Quayle, the director of the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, recently has closed two programs that benefit the poor because of a lack of money. Mr. Weinberg, Baltimore's lone billionaire, who died Sunday, decided that only the poor should benefit from his success and left nearly all of his money to a local foundation to aid the poor.

"This is the best news that I've heard come along even if St. Ambrose doesn't get a nickel out of it," said Mr. Quayle, whose organization has found it tougher and tougher to compete with universities and museums for foundation and corporate dollars. "It gives people real hope."

Mr. Weinberg, who eschewed the trappings of the rich, died of cancer in Hawaii. His fortune -- estimated at $900 million to $1 billion -- will go to the Baltimore-based foundation that bears his name and that of his late wife, Jeanette.

But just how that money will enrich the lives of the poor in Baltimore and Maryland will depend on how the five trustees decide to carry out Mr. Weinberg's intentions. Rough estimates indicate that as much as $45 million a year will be spent to help the poor, with perhaps a third or a half flowing into local organizations or efforts.

By contrast, the Abell Foundation, previously the city's largest, distributes about $6 million a year to Maryland institutions.

"We're greenhorns in this," said William Weinberg, Harry Weinberg's 79-year-old brother and one of the five foundation trustees. "The poor, that's very hard to define. Once we get our staff, the professionals involved," the foundation's course will be more defined. Regardless of how the money is spent, members of Baltimore's foundation community said yesterday that the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation will greatly affect the region.

"Whatever form it takes, it will change charitable donation giving in Baltimore," said Timothy D. Armbruster, president of the Baltimore Community Foundation and the Morris Goldseker Foundation. "The sheer volume of it will change."

"It depends really on how they view themselves. How much they are going to spend, how experimental they are going to be . . . are they going to try and be a change agent," added Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation.

In some cities, foundations have become directly involved in economic and social change. For example, in 1988, the Pew Charitable Trust in Philadelphia awarded a three-year, $8.3 million grant to help the Philadelphia public schools to restructure their 21 comprehensive high schools, schools that enroll 77 percent of the high school students in the city and 81 percent of the minority high schoolers. It reportedly was the largest individual grant to a school system in the country, said Deidra Lyngard, a spokeswoman for the foundation.

"With that money we set up an independent organization that worked closely and in a strategic capacity with the school district," Ms. Lyngard said. "They want to try to leverage their money as much as they can. And obviously when you go for systemic change and long-term commitments, you have the hope of making your money go as far as you can and achieving the greatest impact."

In Baltimore, a similar example is the 1986, $2.5 million grant awarded to the Baltimore health department by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The grant funded the establishment of a quasi-public agency, Baltimore Mental Health Systems Inc., whose aim was to revamp the way mental health services are provided to adults in the city.

"Baltimore is not a large foundation town but it's a good foundation town. One of the beauties of our project is the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has been able to influence public policy on mental health . . . and I think the Weinberg foundation will be in that same position," said Stephen T. Baron, president of Baltimore Mental Health Systems Inc.

When Harry Weinberg found out several years ago that he had cancer, he let it be known that he planned to leave his money to benefit the poor, said his brother, William Weinberg. Then the letters started coming in, about 200 of them, from poor people who wanted help, Mr. Weinberg said.

"But he couldn't give them any money because it wasn't tax deductible," said Mr. Weinberg, whose brother instead donated money to organizations that served the poor.

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