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Lilly's legacy

Friday, Jan. 1
Posted 9 a.m. EDT

You might not know the name Ruth Lilly -- the noted philanthropist lived a low-key life -- but you've most likely heard of the source of her and her family's great wealth: global pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co., based in Indianapolis.

The last surviving great-grandchild of founder Eli Lilly, Ruth Lilly died at the age of 94 on the second-to-last day of 2009. During her life, she gave away much of her estimated $800-million fortune to various institutions, including colleges, hospitals and the National Easter Seals Society. The Lilly name adorns numerous buildings in and around Indianapolis, and the mansion where she spent her childhood is now the campus of the first-rate Indianapolis Museum of Art.

But in 2002, her $100-million donation to an obscure poetry association, the Modern Poetry Association of Chicago, revealed a personal passion. Lilly not only read poetry, but was an amateur poet herself. The gift to the association honors top poets and funds Garrison Keillor's daily radio readings on "The Writer's Almanac."

Throughout her somewhat reclusive life, Lilly battled depression, and ironically, was helped by the Eli Lilly anti-depressant drug Prozac, her physician told the Indianapolis Star in 2002. Her niece, Irene McCutchen, said that as Lilly's depression waned in her later years, her philanthropy allowed her to become involved with a wide variety of local institutions, providing personal enrichment to her financial largesse.

And in the post-holiday spirit of giving and receiving, that's just as it should be.

Watch a video on how to check out a charity before you give.

Read about the nuts and bolts of charitable trusts.

Questions? Comments? E-mail jmartel@bankrate.com

Read more Your Wealth blogs.

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