About a year ago, Mary Morris Gamble Booth ’50 made her biggest one-time contribution to Sweet Briar in 60 years of annual giving. She gave in the form of a charitable gift annuity to benefit the Robert G. Marshall 25th Anniversary Scholarship Fund for Junior Year in France students.
Booth was among 67 coeds who studied in Paris with Sweet Briar’s first JYF class in 1948. So soon after the war, the women lived in the administration building because there weren’t enough French families able to take them in. Foods were rationed. The electricity was turned off two days a week and there was “no heat until long after it was cold enough for our fingers to grow numb around our pencils,” Booth recalled in a 1973 speech commemorating JYF’s 25th anniversary.
But they were young, idealistic and in Paris, which could hardly have felt more exciting or more important. In September 1948, Secretary of State George C. Marshall spoke at JYF’s Reid Hall. In what Booth later would call one of life’s “serendipities,” the author of the Marshall Plan was there for the United Nations General Assembly at the Palais de Chaillot.
Booth was a government major and “very hopeful in the early days after the war that maybe the U.N. could amount to something,” she says with a chuckle.
“I’m not as sanguine now as we were. But I still think international study and international relations and friendships are all to the good. So that’s why I think it’s important for as many people as can to get the experience.”
Some of Booth’s ardor was undoubtedly the influence of the College’s president at the time, Martha B. Lucas, who served from 1946-1950. Young and passionate, Lucas actively supported UNESCO and its ideals, and over her life served in numerous government posts promoting international education and world peace.
Lucas leapt at the opportunity to acquire Junior Year in France from the University of Delaware, which created it in 1923. Of course, in 1948, there were no scholarships. Now there are more than half a dozen need- and merit-based awards available to participants in JYF, which enjoys an international reputation for excellence. It is the oldest U.S. intercollegiate program in Paris. In 2010, JYF added a program at the University of Nice in southern France.
Booth, whose late husband, Lea, was the self-described “panhandler” of the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges as its founding executive director and president for 30 years, has always grasped the importance of supporting her alma mater and its programs.
“If you went to Sweet Briar and you loved it and you got a good education … to support it later is a no-brainer,” she says. “Private schools have to be supported.”
A charitable gift annuity was an easy pick too, and as a retirement community resident, she didn’t have to look far for ideas on investing her money.
“Here at Westminster Canterbury people are always talking about it,” she says, cracking up. “You hear it all the time as a wonderful way to help your own income if you’re old and you think, oh boy, inflation, I can’t keep up with that, well, this is a little income. And if you give a lot, it’s big income.”
A charitable gift annuity, or CGA, is a direct contract between the donor and receiving organization that provides the donor a fixed lifetime income and an immediate charitable deduction. It can be structured to reduce capital gains and estate taxes while avoiding probate taxation, and there are no lawyer fees.
The older the donor, the higher the quarterly payment. For Booth, the yield is 7.8 percent — before the charitable tax deduction, which effectively raises it to 12.5 percent, says Margie Lippard, Sweet Briar’s director of major and planned giving.
The annuity is paid from investments the recipient makes with the gift; when the donor dies, whatever is left stays with the charity.
By choosing a CGA, Sweet Briar donors strengthen and empower the College through their deferred gift, Lippard says. And by including the College in their estate plans, they become members of the Indiana Fletcher Williams Association. “It is truly a case of having your cake and eating it too,” she says.
Booth’s contribution was $10,000, but her eyes twinkle with laughter once again as she observes that you’re allowed to invest up to $5 million.
“If you want to give one for five million dollars, you can get it at seven-point-eight percent, but unfortunately I can’t do that,” she says.
Booth’s easy laugh bubbles near the surface, looking for reasons to let loose. Standing tall and straight at 85, her voice is a full, high timbre, her diction crisp and evocative of a long Virginia heritage. An image of President John Tyler, her mother’s grandfather, hangs in her living room. On her father’s side, the Gambles were among the pre-Revolution Scots-Irish who settled the Shenandoah Valley and fought with George Washington. Morris is her middle name and one is encouraged not to omit it.
Born in Richmond, Booth grew up in St. Louis. At Sweet Briar, she was a founding member of the newly chartered Phi Beta Kappa, helped start a United World Federalist Club and was freshman class president. She took voice lessons — which she continued in France and sang alto with the American Cathedral Choir — and recalls the College’s Step Singing tradition as clever but clean fun.
After graduating, she was employed by the Marshall Plan, the State Department’s European Recovery Program, for a brief time. There, she met Augustus “Lea” Booth, at a party in Georgetown. Himself a Virginia-born Washington and Lee graduate with a wicked sense of humor, one can only imagine that first conversation.
They married in 1951 and two years later moved to Lynchburg, where they raised a daughter and twin sons. Booth devoted a lot of her time to volunteering and fundraising in the community, not least for Sweet Briar, serving as Lynchburg Alumnae Club president, class president from 1970 to 1975 and on numerous committees over the years, including one that sold flower bulbs to raise money for the College. She is both a Silver Rose Society member and Williams Associate.
In Lynchburg, she served on countless boards, including Seven Hills School, Virginia Episcopal School, Point of Honor, Junior League and the Jefferson Choral Society. She is a member of the Colonial Dames and St. John’s Episcopal Church, where she sang in the choir for 43 years.
Booth is a great appreciator of “serendipities” — life’s little coincidences that add richness to one’s experiences, often tying together people and events that span decades and continents. She can recall a lot of them. Like meeting a young Rhodes Scholar on her Atlantic crossing in 1948 and again 15 years later at then Hollins College in Virginia, where he worked.
She was president of Alliance Française de Lynchburg and on the hunt for a speaker. As they parted, he joked, “Once a Junior Year girl, always a Junior Year girl.”
Mary Morris didn’t mind a bit.