In their day-to-day lives, single people are far more generous and caring than they are given credit for – even when they talk about themselves. I discussed the double standard in calling people selfish in a previous post. Here, I want to tell you about the kinds of giving single people do that outlives them. Usually, when charitable organizations, universities, and nonprofit organizations think about people who will leave a legacy with their gifts, they think about married couples and parents. But single people leave legacies, too.
One of the most moving stories I have ever read about a legacy left by a single person with no children was a 1995 article about Oseola McCarty. It begins like this:
“Oseola McCarty spent a lifetime making other people look nice. Day after day, for most of her 87 years, she took in bundles of dirty clothes and made them clean and neat for parties she never attended, weddings to which she was never invited, graduations she never saw.
“She had quit school in the sixth grade to go to work, never married, never had children…All she ever had was the work, which she saw as a blessing. Too many other black people in rural Mississippi did not have even that.
“She spent almost nothing, living in her old family home, cutting the toes out of shoes if they did not fit right and binding her ragged Bible with Scotch tape to keep Corinthians from falling out. Over the decades, her pay – mostly dollar bills and change – grew to more than $150,000.”
McCarty used that money to create a scholarship fund for black people in southern Mississippi, so they would be able to attend the university in her hometown, the University of Southern Mississippi. The university never approached her; it was all her idea. The first person to be awarded one of Oseola McCarty’s scholarship was a young woman who was the president of her senior class and had some of the best grades in her school but was not going to be able to afford to go to college.
What about all the other single people?
For an article I wrote for the Washington Post, “Think single people are selfish? The research proves otherwise,” I asked single people if they thought about leaving a legacy. Because of length limitations, I could not include the responses of everyone who was willing to be mentioned. Here is the more complete set of responses:
Retiring Solo author Lori Martinek of Scottsdale, AZ, told me she has “a foundation in place which will liquidate all of my assets when I die and distribute them, as monetary gifts, to financially disadvantaged women who want to create financial independence by starting their own business.”
Dawn, 34, is an artist who contributes to a scholarship fund for students at her college; she dreams of creating a public mural. When a new animal shelter opened in her town of Bellingham, WA, Kristin Noreen, an environmental consultant, commissioned an artist to build a bike rack to adorn the entrance.
Courtney, 41, has a trust that will fund family planning services for women as well as educational scholarships for young single women with no children. Jo Cox-Brown, an entrepreneur in Nottingham, U.K., is also helping to pay for the education of women pursuing careers in medicine or public health. When she dies, all her money “will go to charities that work to improve safety in cities at night.”
Environmental causes are designated in the will of Ilona, a librarian from Germany. Leslie Pardue, a 56-year-old from North Carolina, is also committed to environmental issues and animal rights, too. Wendy, a 51-year-old in Ohio, hopes to create a foundation to benefit “non-human animals, both domesticated and wild.” Karen Gritter, a 54-year-old from Michigan, would like to set aside land for a nature preserve.
Each year Meghan Cody, a 38-year-old clinical psychologist in Atlanta, trains about 15 future therapists. Amy Gahran, who practices solo polyamory, helps other people with her writings about unconventional relationships.
Laura, a therapist in Michigan, said, “My greatest legacy will be the impact I’ve had healing and transforming the world through the arts. Over the course of 20 years, I’ve cared for countless patients and families in hospice and palliative care ages birth – 103 to help them both live and die. My legacy is also in the new arts-based counseling programs and positions that I’ve lead organizations to develop. And, I’ve lead many music students to develop a strong relationship with music and playing music that will last their lifetimes. The university students I teach who will become therapists will carry parts of me forward, too. Deep down, I also am dedicated to helping people discover what their purposes are in life. Of course, I’ll leave resources to my one and only person of the next generation, my niece, as well as an organization that successfully alleviates the cycle of poverty for families throughout the world. My closest friends and the children of my friends who I am close to will receive something special, too.”
Other educators and therapists also described their legacy as the difference they are making in the lives of their students or clients. They include Helen Dunbar, 53, from Manchester, U.K.; Nova Annamya, 43, from West Java, Indonesia; Craig Wynne, 39, of Newport News, VA; Krista Lynn, 44, from Vermont; Khoreen Vetter, who is 33 and describes herself as a nomad; and a 39-year-old woman from Finland.
It wasn’t just teachers who mentioned their contributions to the next generation as part of their legacy. For example, Tina Bon, an executive assistant in New York City, described her love for the children of her friends and family.
The single people I queried also had plenty of ideas about philanthropy for single people. Alicia, a 65-year-old in Los Angeles, would like to give to a group “dedicated to making sure rights and obligations of a citizen have nothing to do with marital status.” Kendra Heath, a 67-year-old from Santa Rosa, CA, wants to “set up a foundation to help single parents get into their own homes at affordable prices.” Leslie Pardue said that “a good use of funds would be for health insurance for singles who cannot obtain it any other way and in-home support for elderly singles who need help to live independently.” Patrick Arsenault, a 30-year-old Canadian, also underscored the significance of helping single people afford basic necessities.
As for me, I’ve long fantasized about starting a Foundation for the Empowerment of Single People that would support research, writing, reporting, advocacy, and creative projects devoted to myth-busting, consciousness-raising, and social justice for singles. Maybe someone would propose a study to elucidate the disconnect between the stereotype of single people as selfish and the reality of their giving ways.
Thanks to all these single people for sharing their aspirations, and in so doing, helping to shatter the stereotype of the selfish single person. And thanks to Kristi Birch for the heads-up about the New York Times article about Oseola McCarty.