Service in London honors memory of George Peabody Philanthropist spread charitable deeds in Great Britain, America

November 17, 1995|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- They filled Westminster Abbey yesterday to remember George Peabody, a man whose story reveals that fame is often fleeting, but philanthropy can last forever.

Tenants in the homes he built for London's poor were there. So were educators from schools he established in America,

including the Peabody Institute in Baltimore.

The audience of 1,800 was sprinkled with politicians and clergy, ambassadors and businessman, all somehow still touched by Peabody in the 200th anniversary year of his birth.

"He was a man who came from nothing, made a lot of money and then gave it back to the people he made it from," said Phyllis Bryn-Julson, a member of Baltimore's Peabody Institute faculty who came to sing Psalm 117.

In his time, Peabody -- born in Danvers, (now Peabody) Mass., and named after George Washington -- knew fame and fortune.

He was an international merchant and financier, a confidant of Queen Victoria, a human bridge linking America and Great Britain.

Westminster Abbey was the site of his funeral service, Nov. 4, 1869. A memorial stone in the nave marks the place where his body was placed until it was moved to America the next month.

London mourned his death. So did America. His funeral train in America was said to be the longest such train in history.

Yesterday, they remembered his life in a service of thanksgiving, capping off a year of festivities. A choir sang softly. Clergy read prayers. Admiral William J. Crowe Jr., ambassador of the United States to the Court of St. James's, read an excerpt from Deuteronomy:

"When you reap your harvest in your field, and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. "

It was Peabody money that financed the laying of the first and second trans-Atlantic cables. He threw Fourth of July parties in London and raised the cash for the American exhibit at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London's Hyde Park.

But he left more permanent marks through charity.

For example, the Peabody Institute, the musical conservatory his money created, helped transform Baltimore. His example in philanthropy was said to inspire others to found Johns Hopkins University, the Enoch Pratt Free Library and the Walters Art Gallery.

Peabody never stopped giving.

After seeing the harsh living conditions that afflicted the poor in Victorian London, he established a trust to build apartments. Today, the Peabody Trust still exists, providing shelter for more than 14,000 families.

One of the Peabody tenants, Sheila Winters, spoke for all the others in yesterday's service, reciting a prayer:

Have you not seen? Have you not heard?

He is there in the doorway, cold and wet.

Have you not seen? Have you not heard?

She is there wrapped in the newspapers, stiff and sore.

With the organ booming, the congregation ended the service by singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Afterward, distant Peabody relatives joined business and political leaders for a fish-and-chips lunch at a nearby restaurant.

"They still make people like Peabody," said Jacques Schlenger, chairman of the Peabody Advisory Council in Baltimore.

"But there just aren't as many around."

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