A Baltimore-bred benefactor has his eye, and money, on city

$10 million gift to Gilman latest in local philanthropy for N.Y. investment banker

January 21, 2003|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Investment banker William Polk Carey has moved far from the Baltimore of his youth - founding a multimillion-dollar company in New York City and serving as a benefactor of earthquake victims in India, farmers in Colorado and economics students in Pennsylvania.

But Gilman School, conceived by his grandmother more than a century ago, always retained a special place in his heart. He served as a trustee, walked the grounds with headmasters and, unbidden, sent members of his class a framed photo of themselves.

Today, the North Baltimore boys school will announce that the investment banker has given it $10 million - the largest such gift that local private school administrators can recall.

"It's just an amazingly successful institution," Carey said of Gilman, which he credits with contributing to his success.

Carey, 72, made his fortune building W.P. Carey & Co., a real estate investment firm that owns or manages more than 500 commercial and industrial properties throughout the United States and Europe, valued at about $4 billion.

His philanthropy, often quiet and occasionally unconventional, has ranged widely. But Carey has been giving to institutions in Baltimore - where he and generations of education-minded Careys before him grew up - for years.

The Gilman gift is the latest he has given to Baltimore institutions. Carey also recently pledged $1 million to pay for part of the expansion of the galleries of the Maryland Historical Society.

He sees the Baltimore gifts as an attempt to restore the greatness of a city that once was a nerve center of America by strengthening institutions with deep roots here.

Noting that Baltimore was a 19th-century hub, Carey said: "It's lost its pre-eminent position. I'd like to see it regain that. I don't see any reason why it shouldn't. It's one heck of a beautiful city. It's a great place to live."

In 1998, Carey's $2.5 million gift to the Johns Hopkins University established a minor in entrepreneurship and management that officials there say has become the most popular undergraduate minor.

Gilman received the same amount from Carey during the 1990s to create an endowment for Carey Hall, its main building, which was named for Carey's grandmother, Anne Galbraith Carey. That gift now is the second-largest in Gilman's history. With his latest donation, Carey calculates he will have given the school $15 million over the years.

Historical society

The gift to the historical society will create the Carey Center for Maryland Life, which will occupy the first floor of a 40,000-square-foot gallery being added to the society's Heritage Wing.

The hall will feature an opening exhibition called "Looking for Liberty in Maryland," and will include the story of Carey's great-grandfather, James Carey, a Baltimore merchant and philanthropist who helped found an anti-slavery group around 1800. James Carey also was a founding trustee of Hopkins, where William Carey now sits on the board.

The gift to the historical society, Carey said, recognizes that "you learn from the history to fix the future."

Dennis Fiori, executive director of the society, pitched the $1 million gift to Carey over dinner at a private club in New York.

"He knows where he wants to go; he knows what he wants to do," Fiori said. "He really sees the importance of bolstering the business community and sees connecting that to the humanities."

A child of the Depression, Carey is known for an understated manner and lifestyle despite his wealth. Friends and associates say that behind the lifelong bachelor's soft-spoken voice is a decisive mind.

"He's a very gentle and quiet and thoughtful person, and very concerned about the way the world has gone and the importance of education," said C.A. Porter Hopkins, a Cambridge farmer who was a classmate of Carey's at Gilman and Princeton University. "I think he's contributed as much as anybody I know."

Jon C. McGill, the Gilman headmaster, recalled being at a reception Carey held for employees of his company and others at the Peabody Library last April, where powerful people respectfully strained to hear Carey.

"When he spoke, everybody leaned forward to listen," McGill said. "When Bill speaks, he's got something interesting to say."

McGill asked Carey for the unprecedented gift to Gilman at a meeting last month in Carey's Rockefeller Plaza office. It was the culmination of a series of meetings with Carey in which McGill had laid out needs and plans for the school, including a hoped-for overhaul of the interior of Carey Hall to add classrooms, common space and wiring for new technology.

"I expected a large gulp," McGill said, recalling the moment he asked for $10 million. "There was just 30 seconds of a pensive silence. ... He gave me a clear indication he would give it serious thought."

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