The splendor of wealth does not always show itself. For Sylvia Bloom, a 96-years-young retired secretary who passed away earlier this year, her $8.2 million dollars in donations to various charities represent a story of humility, philanthropy and generosity rarely seen. Ms. Bloom donated $6.24 million of that amount to the Henry Street Settlement, a social service group in New York City.
Ms. Bloom was a frugal secretary for the same law firm for over 67 years. She accumulated her wealth by paying attention to the investments of the attorneys in her office, who were often asking her to relay their investment choices on the stock market to their brokers. Over the years she studied the patterns and learned to trust many of those bets to her great benefit. Most interesting was the fact that she never advertised her wealth and continued with her job long after accumulating millions in dividends.
Her niece, Jane Lockshin explained Ms. Bloom’s approach to wealth accumulation: “She was a secretary in an era when they ran their boss’s lives. So when the boss would buy a stock she would make the purchase for him and then buy the same stock for herself, but in a smaller amount because she was on a reporter’s salary.”
Ms. Bloom’s total net worth exceeded $9 million and was divided among three brokerage houses and eleven banks. Ms. Bloom’s will allowed for some of her wealth to be divided to surviving relatives and friends. The bulk of the fortune also will go toward scholarships for students in financial need. That portion of the will is to be managed by Ms. Lockshin.
The gift to the Henry Street Settlement was awarded in Frebruary and announced in early May. It will endow the settlement’s Expanded Horizons College Success Program that is designed to aid students with various financial disadvantages.
Ms. Bloom is not the only such surprise and magnanimous millionaire. There are many examples of men and women who kept their fortunes secret and never adjusted their lives to their new income status. By keeping their good fortunes secret these individuals such as Grace Groner, who lived in a modest one bedroom home and later donated $7 million to a university upon her death. Leonard Gigowski died in 2015 with $13 million to fund scholarships.
Ms. Bloom never had children of her own and often spoke of her wishes to help students achieve their dreams via university scholarships. She was born to Eastern European immigrants and grew up in Brooklyn in the 1920s and 1930s, experiencing many hardships along the way during the great depression.
She joined Cleary Gottlieb Steen and Hamilton, her law firm, in 1947. In the 1940s the firm was small and ambitious. Its fortunes were never assured. Over the course of her 67 years with the law firm Cleary Gottlieb grew to over 1,200 attorneys. As the longest tenured employee with the firm, Ms. Bloom became a trusted resource and grew to develop many close relationships. She would later marry and it is theorized by many that even her husband was not fully aware of his wife’s fortune since the couple lived in a modest rent-controlled apartment. A stalwart stoic Ms. Bloom was famous for always taking the subway to and from work, even during the morning of September, 11, 2001. On that fateful day she was forced to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and take a bus home, not a taxi.
Hers is a legacy of generosity, humility and philanthropy that deserves its own film and a tale almost too unbelievable to be true in an age of narcissism and ostentation.