Reclusive philanthropist

Thursday, Nov. 19
Posted: 4 p.m. EDT

When it comes to giving, there are those who want to be lauded, and those who prefer to remain behind the curtain. Think of the names you know -- Rockefeller, Carnegie, Mellon -- and you realize it's because along with their fortunes, they bestowed their names on their legacies.

But here's one name you won't see on a building: Albert Stone. The low-key Townsend, Mass., manufacturer of plastic household goods recently bestowed the largest gift the town has ever received. What's more, as this article in The Boston Globe points out, "there were no conditions, no naming rights, no matching funds required. All the town had to do was say yes and supply the necessary permits."

The gift is a 17,000-square-foot library and town meeting space, estimated to have cost $20 million, though Stone is declining to give interviews. He didn't even attend the groundbreaking ceremony.

During America's wealth boom of the 1990s and early 2000s, philanthropy soared along with individual fortunes. In the new Gilded Age, philanthropists sought recognition for their generosity, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. The recipients gained far more than the benefactor. But the unsung heroes of charity have always been more compelling. It's the Good Samaritan impulse that captivates us.

Residents in Townsend, with its population of fewer than 10,000, say Stone appears to live a simple life, and perhaps he wants to keep it that way. The fact that his legacy is a building that promotes community and learning in a town that formerly housed its library in temporary space in a strip mall gives us a glimpse into the measure of the man.

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

Read about the nuts and bolts of charitable trusts.

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